While at the ATX Television Festival last week, I got the chance to screen a few upcoming pilots, one of which premieres very soon and two more that will make their debut this fall. I don’t know how fair it is to write a full-on review based solely on the pilots, but I still thought it was worthwhile to share my first impressions. As someone who loves the festival, I appreciate networks and creators putting their work out there early for TV diehards to check out, so while not everything I have to say is positive, I felt I should at least express gratefulness for that. Have I mentioned how much I love ATX? Okay, without further adieu, some thoughts on these upcoming pilots:
Two years ago, the job that I thought was my dream job completely fell apart and I was hurled into freak-out mode, facing a barrage of daunting questions about my future. It was a reality I wasn’t quite ready to face, but there it was, every day, haunting me.
I know that sounds dramatic but I can tell you that the way in which this particular misfortune came about was painful, shocking, faith-shaking stuff.
In the midst of this, I was aware that ATX Television Festival was about to head into its third year with Roswell and Everwood reunions among the festivities. Stuck in Virginia, there was definitely a part of me that would see every announcement about that year’s festival pop up online and wish I had the power to teleport there, away from questions that I didn’t have answers to and problems I didn’t have the will to face some days.
That’s when I heard from Tina.
Tina is a long-time friend who has the reputation among my group of friend as being the only person as obsessed with TV as I am. She actually started as a friend of a friend and didn’t even live in the same state as I did growing up (Florida, if you care), but every year, she’d come down for a couple weeks around New Year’s and we’d all hang out and our friend, Jerry, would torture us by throwing out names for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon because he knew that our compulsion to answer was too great to resist and it amused him to no end.
Tina texted me around the time of this life meltdown telling me she had an extra badge for the festival, already had a place to stay and if I could find a way down there, it’s mine to enjoy. She even ended up letting me use some of her points to take care of some of the flight costs. I know that thinking back to that time when my life felt like it was unraveling, I’ll forever be grateful for her generosity and for the fact that when I went to my wife and said, “Hey….I know our life’s blowing up right now but do you mind if I run off to Austin to hang out with Tina and attend a TV festival?” she enthusiastically encouraged me to take our friend up on her offer.
I would say, by and large, these days television is better than the movies. Great movies still exist and are being made every year, but the momentum is on the side of TV. I’ve always been partial to the long-form storytelling television provides to begin with, but with every new niche channel or streaming outlet, there’s more and more room allowed to be different and ambitious and it’s really a lot of fun on just about every different level depending on what product of Peak TV you happen to be indulging in at the moment.
One thing that both TV and film have in common is superheroes. We’re living in a superhero commercial boom and if the Marvel/DC movie release schedules are any indication, that ain’t gonna change anytime in the next decade. But while TV in general is outperforming movies creatively, I would say the work making it to the big screen in regards to the superhero genre most certainly outdoes what’s being produced for the small screen.
Now, to be fair, you’ve got exceptions. Batman V. Superman exists. Not to mention the second season of Arrow and the first season of The Flash were really freakin fantastic. But this year, these four offerings (I’m ignoring some–I bailed on Supergirl early, for example) have been middling to say the least. Were they able to turn things around in the end? Well…..
It’s been a really busy couple of weeks in TV between upfronts and finale season and it would take a long time to write extensive pieces about every big TV moment of the past month, but I did want to weigh in on how a few (very different) shows chose to wrap up their respective seasons. So here it goes….
Every day this week, the internet has been filled with ripples of buzz for shows that won’t premiere for at least four more months–that’s the fun of network upfronts!
Look, with TV having changed so drastically in the past few years, a lot of people have all but written of network TV. Some days, I feel like one of them. But in an age of streaming and DVR, TV has lost that special experience of joint enjoyment that is most readily facilitated through network television. So, in a sense, I’m still rooting for them because I’m a fan of that type of shared experience.
22 episode seasons seem crazy long in this new TV frontier but there is something still appealing about them. Sure, when they’re bad, 22 episodes can seem awfully arduous, but all those extra hours give shows the chance to craft actual episodes. To take risks here and there. I’m not the first person to make this observation, I’ll admit, but I agree with the chorus of other critics who still see the value of network television, even in a vastly transformed landscape.
I’m going to try my best to keep this review in check and make it about the finale without going off on tangents about the series in its entirety (Warning: I will fail). There have been plenty of pieces written about the legacy of the show, its high and lows points and so on and so forth, so I’ll spare you another retread .However, if you haven’t read my work before, I should at least say this: I’m a huge fan of The Good Wife. For its first five seasons, it was easily one of the top five shows on television in my book, with seasons two and five in particular being two of my favorites seasons of anything ever.
Yes, like many of you, I loved The Good Wife for the way it combined the legal procedural format with engrossing serialized stories full of sex, lies, politics and all of the other best kinds of melodrama. I love that it was, in many ways, a high-brow show produced for the CBS masses. It used its “case-of-the-week” format to thoughtfully probe topics ranging from technology to national security, guns, gender politics, activism and innumerable other notable subjects.
Even when the show was off its game, it was still full of impossibly watchable characters and whip-smart dialogue that intrigued and humored me enough to forgive its many narrative missteps in its later seasons. I think pushing Alicia into politics was an all around terrible decisions for the show (with ramifications that echoed through to the end) but “Oppo Research” (and many others from season six) is fantastic television.
But I’m getting dangerously close to a tangent. Let’s get to it: what did I think of the finale?
The most successful comedy of my lifetime (and one of the most successful of all time) was about “nothing.” And even the several comedies that have come since have made sure the “something” they were about mostly amounted to nothing. To be sure, they had nothing to do with race, politics, religion or any of the other uncomfortable topics you can imagine.
It’s not hard to understand why most shows would stay away from these topics; not only are they divisive, they’re incredibly hard to squeeze humor out of in a sitcom format. Many have tried and most have failed. So most don’t try anymore.
One of the rare exceptions to that is ABC’s blackish which, like The Carmichael Show, follows the life of a modern day African American family that frequently gets into discussions about a whole host of timely political and social issues. Blackish certainly has its defenders, but I’ve watched most of its hot button episodes dealing with everything from the “n-word” to spanking, church and “the nod” (although admittedly I never got around to watching the much-heralded episode about a racially motivated police shooting) and was pretty underwhelmed with the results. I feel like it gets a lot of credit just for “going there” when so many others won’t but they seem to only be interested in dealing with these topics on a kindergarten level. Which is fine, but between that approach and the fact that I find both Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross’s characters consistently irritating, the show just isn’t for me.
But The Carmichael Show definitely is.
As treacherous as spin-offs can be, it’s still not hard to understand why AMC would want to venture down that road with Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Most weeks that it airs, TWD is the number one show on television and, thought it started out with just a cult following, Breaking Bad ended its reign as a bonafide cultural phenomenon with universal fan and critical praise. And with Netflix, the show’s staying power in the collective cultural consciousness continues to be pretty impressive.
With one having just finished its second season and the other one just starting theirs, Better Call Saul stands as a modest hit for the network that earns pretty consistent critical praise while Fear The Walking Dead brings in much more impressive numbers but seems to have been welcomed by bored eyerolls, more than anything. The most recent outing of Fear entitled “Blood in the Streets” was probably my favorite episode to date but I can’t deny that the show’s been a borefest for much of its first ten episodes. Of course, it’s no surprise that a show spun off from a problematic mothership that has often shown shades of greatness one week while slipping into longs ruts of tedious misery would be crippled with even more severe problems. Saul, on the other hand, was spun off from the one of the greatest shows of all time….which is a blessing and curse as far as the lense with which I and many others watch it through is concerned. It’s a very good show much of the time, but it’s not without its problems. Here are some of the ways the shows have soared and failed in a few key areas.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that in its second season, the theme song to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt continues to be a triumph of the human spirit. And criminally catchy.
For this reason, it’s next to impossible to not go into an episode of Kimmy without a big grin on your face. Rapid-fire punchlines, glorious 90s nostalgia and the show’s irresistible sweetness are sure to keep it there.
Is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a perfect show? No, but I’m happy to report that through its second season, it gets even closer to the mark.
WARNING: The following piece features spoilers from the first five episodes of The Path
Religion is hard.
In real life, obviously, there is probably no greater lightning rod than religion. It is simultaneously responsible for some of the greatest movements of peace and destruction in all of human history.
It’s also hard for TV. While faith is very much a part of the fabric of this nation through the years and including modern times, it’s very rare that a fair and accurate depiction is featured on television. There are the occasional caricatures (which is fair game; as a Christian I can certainly attest that some professing Christians certainly go out of their way to inspire mockery) and perhaps a few touchy-feely platitudes during “a very special episode,” but God is far more absent on our TVs than one might expect given the religious makeup of the U.S.
I guess it’s not hard to understand why. Religion is, after all, more than a little polarizing. Still, polarizing and difficult topics ranging from politics to race to rape and other forms of violence are explored fairly regularly on programs these days; but religion still seems very rare.
I think one of the main reasons is probably because of how incredibly difficult it is to depict something like faith. Many have tried and most have failed which is what makes The Path a refreshing surprise made all the more surprising by the fact that the show takes on the trickiest form of religion of all: a cult.