Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What I'm Watching: Finales Part III


I confess I feel a little strange addressing some of these endings almost a month after they aired.

 

But on the other side of the coin, it’s given me some time to ruminate and for some things to happen, some of which I think are important to the future of TV as we know it today.

 

So let’s start with the big one.

 

Glee:

 

I’m trying to figure out the exact moment I realized that my enthusiasm for Glee was just plain shot.

 

I know part of it came from pulling the 100th episode collection out of plastic and putting it in the CD player.  The show hasn’t done many compilations over the last few years, and it’s harder and harder to find the recordings on actual discs now.

 

Any why?  Because they don’t sell very well now.

 

In their first and second year, they went Gold and Platinum on a regular basis.  Now? 

 

Now they barely chart, and when they do, it’s not for long.

 

This one was touted as kind of a big deal – a full recording, based on episode 100 and 101, with a few new songs and some fun re-recordings of some old favorites.

 

But what did we get from it, really?  That’s harder to gauge.  I had listened to the whole thing before I realized that no one singing on it had joined the show after season two.  The remake of Loser Like Me nicely demonstrates that a catchy song can be reworked a bit and still be fun.

 

And we get a fourth version of Don’t Stop Believing, which despite only minor changes, just isn’t as wonderful as that first version.

 

To summarize: The soundtrack offered mostly just reminds how much I used to enjoy the show, and how much my interest has waned.

 

There are other issues as well.  Ohio was dropped from the show, post-episode 100, and I thought that perhaps the show would get a shot in the arm.  Instead, once again, all characters added after season two are now a distant memory. 

 

Which is the say, the show was/is desperately trying to dump nearly two seasons of characters, which they previously (I guess) wanted us to invest in and care about.

 

So we got to spend time with a bunch of people re-hashing stories we’ve pretty much already covered.  Blaine and Kurt are still together, in some strange on-again/off-again way.  They put Sam and Mercedes back together, even though I can think of exactly zero people who ever got invested in them the first time around.  They put Brittany and Santana back together, but forgot to put Brittany back on the show on a regular basis, and never mentioned where she might be.

 

And overall the show became the “Rachel gets everything she wants and acts totally irresponsible and it’s all okay for her” story.

 

And the show had, like, two endings in this season alone.  One where the glee club ended, and one where Sam decides to go back to Ohio because “everyone else is leaving,” even though only Rachel and Mercedes are leaving, and only temporarily, most likely.

 

And then the show ended with a happy song, and the club is over, and… and it felt like a real ending, even though season three felt like a real ending, and the glee club ending felt like a real ending, and…

 

And there was other weirdness. 

 

The show has already been renewed for season six, but the guy who ran Fox said that he was going to have to talk to the folks at Glee about a shortened season, because Glee actually got beaten by a show on the CW.

 

On its finale night, the one time everyone is supposed to check back in with their used-to-be-favorite shows just to see how they wrap up.

 

Except Fox guy is gone, was either quit or fired, depending on how you look at it.

 

Sooo… what happens now?

 

Here’s the deal.

 

I can’t envision a show where the ratings on Glee ever recover.  The only scenario I can see that happen is this: They hit the reboot button hard.  They actually fix all the problems that show has (weak writing, unmotivated characters, characters changing fundamental things about how they act within THE SAME SCENE, an overall trend towards meanness for the sake of being mean, etc.).

 

They work extra hard to get creative in their arrangements, instead of offering note-for-not karaoke on far, far too many song choices.

 

Mostly, the show needs to be what it used to be about – the joy that can be found even in the struggles we have to live with.  Because lately, it has mostly just been about succeeding and succeeding some more.

 

Unfortunately, I can’t see next season as anything other than a write-off.

 

If the show is going to make a comeback, it’s going to need to improve to a level of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad – something so good and so compelling people need to come back on board.

 

But I don’t think the show can really put together a solid 13 (or worse, 6) episode season that will tie off the last few story threads in a satisfactory manner.

 

Really, the big question is, who is left to even care about.  Santana?  Mercedes?

 

Does anyone really want to know what becomes of Blaine in the future?

 

If I were running Fox, I’d call it a day on the show.  The only other choice is to drag the characters together for no real reason to get us involved in stories that are going to come to an abrupt end just a few episodes down the road.

 

They might be able to make a 22 episode season that tells a complete story, and go out well, but I don’t see that happening.

 

And I suppose it’s worth mentioning that, yes, this far in, I’ll be on my couch catching the last few dregs of the show as they work their way down the drain.

 

Sometimes you have to see it through.  But I suspect I’ll be one of the few.

 

Agents of SHIELD:

 

From the saddest ending to the one that pleased me probably the most, I guess.  Because Agents played a long game and made it work.

 

I remember Joss Whedon saying years ago that his new series (I forget whether it was Dollhouse or Firefly) would have seven episodes in a row, all of which could be a pilot.  And I think that’s what happened here, where the show had to make sure EVERYONE was on board before moving forward.

 

And that killed them.

 

They had to tie themselves to movie release schedules.

 

That killed them.

 

And people just expected the show to be great from the word go, even though pretty much every show, ever, needs some time to really find its feet.

 

And that killed them.

 

And then… then they turned it all around.

 

The last episode of the first season was the most Whedon-y episode I think I’ve seen outside of a full-on Whedon show.  It was funny.  It had some great action.  It had hilarious conversations taking the air out of the sails of the villain. 

 

It even had a delightful bad guy moment in the final seconds of the episode.

 

The truth, of course, is that the show is still beholden to the Marvel universe around it, and that is going to murder their momentum in the future.

 

Will that kill them in the end?  Possibly.  But I’m hoping that getting the last few episodes out the door and getting the ratings back up a bit will install a trust in the show folks for the future.  I think they’ve earned it.

 

Good job, folks.  I had fun.  Sorry everyone else was so whiny about it.

 

Modern Family:

 

What is there to say about Modern Family at this point, I wonder? 

 

The show powers along, and it spent the year working up to the marriage of the two gay men on the show.  They tried to make it funny and poignant, and I think everyone who wanted that got it.

 

The show has gone through five seasons now, and as it moves on from here it’s going to get harder and harder to be creative, to service the many characters on the show, and to come up with new and exciting ways to keep the show moving.

 

And yet, they can still pull out great moments – like the impossibly well-oiled Vegas episode. 

 

As long as the show can still offer up one or two of those a season, I’m in.

 

Parks and Recreation:

 

Parks is coming back for one more season after this, but much like Glee, I kind of wish that it wouldn’t.  This season was clearly designed to feel like a conclusion, as everyone found love or otherwise got the happy ending they deserved, whether by getting married, having babies, or moving on with their lives.

 

Much was made of the fact that the show wasn’t as good as it used to be, but I disagree.  Watching the season in the course of a week (as my wife and I always do) revealed the usual flaws, the jokes that come back a little too often, yes, but more importantly, the show let all the characters grow up a little, and change, and get to where they needed to be.

 

The thing of it is, the ending was lovely, and now, much like Glee, the show is supposed to come back for a short season where everything is different.

 

When that happens, you get things like the ninth season of Scrubs, where it’s too different for many folks, who just go ahead and abandon ship.  And the rhythms are a little different, and you have to deal with a new pilot, and just as you get invested… it’s over.

 

I’ll admit, I want more Parks, because I love Parks.  But it ended in a good place, and I suspect that the next year will end with a whimper, not a bang.

 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What I'm Watching: Finales Part II


Ending things can be tough.

 

A season ending is tricky, because you have to wrap things up, and maybe leave a little question at the end of the season so that people will come back next year.

 

And then there’s a series ending, which is tougher, because you have to wrap up everything, but still leave just the smallest little crack open in the event that everything that comes out next year crashes and burns and they have to bring you back for another 13 episodes.

 

I’m still covering beginnings and endings, so here’s part two of that – which is all endings, this time around.

 

Warehouse 13:

 

I wanted to start with this show just because, even though it took a while to get great, it did make it there.

 

And then it went back to being good.

 

(Here I’m talking about the series as a whole…)

 

I think it’s that “good” –ness that prevented the show from running longer.  When I read that the final season was going to be a mere six episodes to wrap everything up, no protests were launched, no write-in campaigns to make it keep going were put out in the world.

 

Nope.

 

Instead, we got a quick final season, one that shunted off Myka’s cancer and said, “Uh, that’s not important,” and tore through Claudia’s sister story at Mach 5.

 

And look, we knew this is what we were getting into.  So they told it as best they could, but if we’re being honest, there was NO way to get all the parts and pieces to land emotionally in six episodes.

 

And in the end, they didn’t even have six.  They crammed it into five so they could get to the finale.

 

Was that the right choice?  Yeah, I think it was.  Another episode wouldn’t really have helped their case, and it would have brought the show to a sudden halt with no emotional closure, I think.

 

And even with the sister storyline, they snuck in a couple of fun side quests to a Ren Faire and a Mexican soap opera, complete with callbacks to old characters.  It was a chance to hang out with these guys one last time, and for me that made the first give worthwhile.

 

The struggle of the final episode is, of course, whether to end things completely, or whether to just end, and say that tomorrow is another day.

 

And Warehouse 13 split that hair.  Everyone is told the Warehouse is moving, and that a new staff will come on when it goes to another country.  So they all have to put their defining moment into a sort of time capsule…

 

Which means they get to sneak a few extra “lost” capers into the show.  And have a clips show of a sort.  And…

 

The thing of it is, they did it all. They even put Pete and Myka together, which was sweet, though I’m not sure how many people were clamoring for it. 

 

And at the end, they’re off to work another case, with the Warehouse moving “sometime in the future.”

 

I don’t think the final season of Warehouse was perfect, because it was just a little too truncated.  Perhaps ten episodes might have been enough…

 

But the finale tried, and succeeded, at giving everyone everything they could have wanted. 

 

At the very least, I feel okay saying goodbye.

 

American Idol:

 

Word has already come down that next season will fill 37 hours instead of more than 50, that they want to get the same set of judges back, and that they think the season went all right, and…

 

If I could abandon the show, I would.  But I’m guessing my wife will be interested in what comes next.

 

For me, it was a year of larger and larger disappointments.  Once again, two people I don’t want a record from went head-to-head.  Nothing against them, I just don’t care about what’s next from them.

 

As for Alex, who I finally decided I was kinda rooting for?  The day he was cut, I went online and decided to download all his songs from the season.  Only I guess he didn’t record a bunch of them.  Including a couple I considered essential.

 

So, meh.

 

Even Jena, whose finest performance was almost certainly I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You?  I hope you didn’t want to hear that again, because you can’t download it anywhere.

 

Ultimately, the best thing I got out of the season was the knowledge that there’s a musical artist named Mali Music, and that he wrote a really lovely song called Beautiful.  I wish his record was out already.

 

And here’s hoping Alex doesn’t vanish, the way every single person from last year on Idol did…

 

The Big Bang Theory:

 

You know what surprises me? 

 

Big hasn’t had any real reason to change over the years.  Reruns of the show often pull in twice as many viewers as new episodes of shows going up against it.  Even on cable, in long-ago reruns, it crushes other competition.

 

And yet, they’ve been trying to fix the show just the same. 

 

The characters have moved forward, growing and changing.  The character who couldn’t talk to girls can do so now.  Sheldon has made emotional progress.  The on-again-off-again relationships have all worked themselves into a normalized on-again.

 

I still think there are probably a few too many nerd jokes, and simple references, but… you know what?  I’m going to let it go, for no other reason than because I get a few decent laughs from the show every week.

 

And more importantly, the writers seem to be trying.  Credit where credit is due, folks.

 

Supernatural:

 

So… so the spin-off didn’t happen.  And they killed a main character.  And now… he’s a demon.

 

Aaaannnnndddd… I’m happy.  This was a big, sprawling season, with some monster of the week stories and some bigger and badder big bads that got the characters deeper and deeper into trouble, which doesn’t even seem possible nine seasons in.

 

And yet.

 

Some people are into this idea, and some people are writing it off as something that will just revert to the status quo halfway through the next season, as many of these storylines do.

 

Will it?  That’s an excellent question, for which I have no real answer.  I just hope the writers do.

 

And after two highly enjoyable seasons, I trust the writers.

 

 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I'm Watching: Start and Stop


As the TV season comes to an end, I find myself pondering the world of beginnings and endings.  So many shows are bowing out now, winking out for the summer in hopes that people will go outside and see the sun.

 

Or just because the people making them need a break.  That could be it, as well.

 

I’ve been thinking that these write-ups are unwieldy generally, but with the TV season coming to a close, I do want to talk about what’s on and what’s back and what’s leaving, maybe forever.

 

So… let’s talk about what’s gone and what’s back.

 

Community:

 

A friend of mine once claimed (I can’t remember the reason we were talking about it) that every TV show, without exception, should end after five years.

 

Since that conversation, I’ve tried to come up with examples of shows that would prove him wrong.

 

And the truth is that while I can think of really excellent individual episodes that would go missing from history, I find it hard to think of full seasons that don’t fit his particular bill.

 

(In fact, I hate to say it, but even going past season three can brutalize shows…)

 

To give an example: While I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it weakened in season six and seven.  But without those seasons, we never would have gotten that musical… so maybe it’s a wash?

 

Community exists in a magical space, I think.  It keeps getting almost-cancelled, only to come back for another go-round.  And the fans, the true blue among them, anyway, cry out for more, in particular for six seasons and a movie.

 

Because… well, if you don’t know, explaining it isn’t going to help you.

 

And yet, as the show stumbled to the end of season five, I realized that I was pretty much okay with it ending.  The show has produced solid, wonderful, episodes the likes of which we’ve never seen on another TV show.

 

But it’s also produced its fair share of clunkers.  And this year, it’s started going back to its own well and offering up sequels and semi-sequels to earlier episodes. 

 

If they had 22 or 24 episodes to create last year, I could have understood that.  You have to fill that air time as best you can.

 

But they had 13 half-hours to fill.  And they didn’t even have to go on the air until the beginning of 2014.  They had time to craft, to prepare, to mold.

 

And what we got was mostly reheated.

 

I’m not going to argue that there were no bright spots.  The lie detector episode was a wonder – a demonstration of what strong writing and well-loved characters can do stuck in a room together.

 

But the rest of it?

 

I’m not sure what I can say about it.  I could tell they were working hard to get their new characters into place.  They were trying really hard to get through their character arcs and bring the show to a real resolution, since this is supposed to be the “last” season.

 

And in the end, I guess they more-or-less managed it.

 

But with such a small number of episodes, it’s become clear that there aren’t that many more stories to tell, only the same stories in slightly new ways.

 

If there’s another season, I’ll watch for those great episodes that will certainly appear.  But the show has gone from new and fresh to just good TV, and if it ends now, I think it will be better remembered and loved than if it ends one more season and a movie from now.

 

Warehouse 13:

 

Warehouse 13 had an interesting time of it last year.  After a few shorter seasons, last time they got 20 episodes, and I got the sense that it almost killed them.

 

The first half of the season was an absolute beast, raising the stakes to impossible levels that the show couldn’t possibly top.  Or so I thought.

 

And as it turns out, I was right.  The fate of the world was hanging in the balance at the end of episode ten, and a few episodes later that was mostly forgotten, though they tried to leave some lingering effects wandering around to keep the latter half of the season interesting.

 

The arc of Warehouse 13’s quality, therefore, went a bit like this:

 

Pleasant watchable show.

Good show that every once in a while achieves greatness.

Appointment watching.

Pleasant watchable show.

 

As we were going into season six, it was with the knowledge that we’re down to the last six episodes, that one character has cancer, and another just learned about a long-lost sibling.

 

As  a writer myself, I spent weeks pondering how they would make that all come together in six episodes, paying it off and ending the series as well as they possibly could.

 

And… uh…

 

I guess they got a little lost in there, too.

 

I’m guessing here, but it seems like they realized that with twelve or thirteen or twenty episodes, they could handle a lost family member and cancer.  But with six, there was no way.

 

So they quickly walked the cancer back to, “Hey, it’s not as bad as we thought!”

 

The missing sister, however… well, they’re trying.

 

As I type this, the season is already half-over and I get the sense that if this were another year, we’d be six episodes in and the stories we’re watching would have a stronger emotional resonance.

 

Instead, we’re four in and these stories just don’t have the necessary time to land.

 

Truthfully, I’m happy to hang out with these characters some more, and I think that’s enough for me.  We got this last season to say goodbye, and so, much like you try to spend every waking minute with your college buddies before you head off to the real world, well…

 

You try to enjoy every second.  Even the dull ones.

 

If Community excited me by bringing back its original showrunner and promising all the old joy would be back, Warehouse offered us less and, in doing so, has given us a more.  A real chance to say goodbye.

 

Game of Thrones:

 

Game has already been renewed for two more seasons, which to my mind is both wonderful and terrible. 

 

Wonderful because even if something goes horribly wrong, the writers can cobble together an ending.

 

Horrible because the end of the line is coming, in so many terrible ways.

 

These are the facts we’re facing.

 

First: It’s time we all owned up to it and admitted that George RR Martin isn’t going to finish the books on time. 

 

I heard a hilarious, wonderful theory that even now, George is practically done with the sixth book, and the publisher will slam it together and get it out by Christmas.

 

This is wrong.

 

George has put this off too long now.  He bought a movie theater, he cobbled together and edited anthologies, he… I mean really, he did everything BUT write the books that turned him into a household name, and now it has come to bite him, and there’s nothing he can do.

 

The series cannot vamp.  There can be no prequel years.  The kids are aging out of their characters all too quickly, and this is TV, where if people don’t have contracts they leave shows and don’t come back.

 

Actors have to eat, after all.

 

No. We are going to get the TV ending, and then if Martin lives another ten years, which he probably won’t, we’ll get another book out of him.  Maybe even finish the series. But I’d be shocked if that happens.

 

Which brings me to –

 

Problem the Second: We’re about to get into the “bad” books.

 

I have known fans of the series, and super-fans of the series, and I have yet to meet even one who really enjoyed the fourth book of the series.  I have found some that liked five.

 

There are a lot of words in those books, but not much in the way of forward motion.  And so they will be slashed and shortened and condensed and if the TV writers are smart, we’ll get two good seasons out of those books instead of three or four dull ones.

 

Those two seasons are important, because…

 

Third Issue: If things fall apart, we’ll never get ANY kind of resolution.

 

Thrones is doing well for HBO, but let us be honest – it is also the most expensive show on television, and even more dangerously, it is a channel that has been known to cut its losses in the past.

 

So if these next two seasons are boring, and everyone knows there isn’t a real ending, just whatever the creators can cobble together from George’s notes, well…

 

Suffice to say, things might get extremely rough in a hurry.

 

That’s my fear, really.  Two mediocre seasons the ratings go down, the budget gets cut, and the final two books of material are crammed into ten episodes, with an ending put together by new showrunners brought in when the old ones ran for the hills, claiming they didn’t have enough time to finish the story to their liking.

 

Which maybe ties back to that five seasons thing I started talking about.

 

Look.

 

The new season of Thrones is great.  There are parts people don’t like, discussions about screwing up characters, but it is an amazing show with a huge budget and it’s doubtful that something so impressive, expensive, and immersive ever gets made again.

 

More to the point, if this boat crashes and burns, welp, why would anyone put the money again?

 

They won’t.

 

And so I sit, and I enjoy this season, and I think about what is to come, and I cringe.

 

Though maybe if that Christmas thing is true…

Monday, April 14, 2014

American Idol - Who Takes 2014?


I thought I’d said all I had to say about Idol for the year, but much to my surprise, a few friends have asked me what I think about contestants this year.

 

Actually, they asked me a few weeks ago, but I’ve been busy.

 

Suffice to say, not going much into details, people have been dropping out about where I thought they deserved to drop out, which is not a surprise.  So I guess I saved myself some typing there.

 

Every year I watch the show, that’s what happens.  Inevitably, what occurs is that the audience learns a few things shooting out of that opening week.  Some people just aren’t prepared to sing with band behind them. Some people aren’t ready to sing for THAT many people.  They might be excited to see you, but unlike back home you can’t back the room with family and friends who are going to declare every second you are on the stage as the greatest thing they’ve ever seen.

 

It’s a singing competition, yes, but it’s also a fashion competition, a swagger competition, and a personality competition. 

 

And every year, there’s a weird thing that happens where someone who should be knocked out early just hangs on, and on, and on, and on…

 

But I guess we’ll come to that.

 

And I think I mention this every year, and I’ll mention it again: Going to the bottom three isn’t always a bad thing, because it forces people into a protection mode.  They vote you up because they don’t want you to go.

 

Otherwise they get a little lazy and then you get the so-called “shocking” eliminations.

 

Which, eh.  It’s a game.  SOMEONE has to lose.

 

So here’s where I think things are going to shake out, with my usual caveats: I don’t think America votes the way I want them to vote.  I think someone I don’t really care for always clings to life.  And ultimately, even if I like the winners, I rarely buy, or even want to hear, their record.

 

(For the (ahem) record I have so far bought two idol winner recordings: Phillip Phillips’ first record, which had a few really catchy songs on it, and the best of Kelly Clarkson which, I learned, still had a lot of stuff on it I just flat-out didn’t care about.)

 

One final note: I think these things are kind of fluid, and people will usually go out within one or two slots of where I think they’ll go out.  Until I get to the end, we get “shocking” results, and inevitably one of the people I think will drop out in the middle comes in as a big winner.

 

Sam:

 

The saving of Sam will probably go down in history as the biggest waste of save of all time, assuming the show runs past this year.

 

I like Sam.  He seems like a good guy, and he has a lovely voice.  And what I don’t really get is how he’s had such an emotion-filled life (as least from what we’ve seen, where he’s living with her grandparents, I’m sure there’s a story there…) and yet he can’t connect those emotions to any of his song choices.

 

The thing of it is, last week they only gave us a bottom two, which tells me that Sam is still down there, and not long for this competition.

 

My running theory is that they saved him simply because the save choices were running out, and if things shook out badly, they would be forced to use it (or look cruel if they didn’t) when CJ came up for saving.

 

And speaking of…

 

CJ:

 

Man, does CJ seem like a great human being.  I mean that.  Unlike Sam, his difficulties in life seem to be right out in the open, and they show up in every scratch in his voice.

 

And man, that voice, it’s filled with… with just everything.  I suspect he could spend his weeks singing about how much he loves bacon, and people would figure that bacon done broke his heart.

 

(He always sounds as if he just came out of a fistfight where he won, but just got hit in the throat.  I say this as a compliment.)

 

But he’s always, always, always out of tune, to the point where I frequently sense he’s forgotten the song he’s singing and is starting to panic.

 

The fact is, the guy just doesn’t have the ability to sing, and stay, on key.  And that’s not a terrible thing.  But there are better singers here, and CJ should have been gone a long time ago.

 

Dexter:

 

I’m keeping Dexter low here, but I’m going to be honest: I think he could take this competition. 

 

The judges harp on him, hard, for sounding like every other singer on country radio.  Well guys, guess what?  If he wins this thing, he’s going to be just another dude on country radio, singing about his dog and house and how much he loves his tractor.

 

If you can take a guy, stick him in a studio, and create a record that makes him sound like everyone else, well, the problem isn’t his voice.  It’s the songs they stick him with.  So hand him a few songs that should be hits and watch him fly.

 

But to recap – he’ll either go out here or take the whole thing.  And either way, I shrug.

 

Jessica:

 

If Stevie Nicks were to retire tomorrow, Fleetwood Mac should take Jessica on the road and pretend she’s 70s-era Stevie.  The sound is just uncanny.

 

I even think Jessica is a decent songwriter, based on her one original I’ve heard a couple of times now. 

 

What she’s not good with, however, is killing me.  She’s not good with a band.  Or they aren’t good with her, I dunno.  But every week, it seems like they find a way to be out of step with each other.  I think all those years as a solo act have just killed her for working with a band, and for whatever reason she just can’t get into that groove.

 

When she comes out, plants her feet, and plays the guitar, there’s wonderful stuff here.  But working with other people is just killing her, and I don’t think she can fix it.

 

It was really apparent when she sang her original song, and the arrangement was boring as drying paint.  Harry remarked that he thought Jessica forgot to sing a line, but no.  What was needed was a little solo instrument – pedal steel, a violin, something to fill that gap – but Jessica doesn’t know how to do that, and the band isn’t helping her.

 

It will be her death in this competition.

 

I really want a copy of her solo record, however.  Just can’t figure out how to get my hands on it…

 

Alex:

 

You know what?

 

I want Alex to win.  Badly.

 

It’s clear he knows how to write.  He knows how to arrange.  He can step on the stage and give a performance.

 

And while Harry, who is usually pretty smart about these things, complains that Alex never gets out of his coffeehouse vibe, well, he just did a few weeks ago with his One Direction song. 

 

Alex is ready to make a record, and in the event that he loses, I’ll probably do something I’ve never done before and start downloading his weekly iTunes songs.

 

Man, I hope he wins.

 

Jena:

 

Truthfully, I love Jena, and I think it’s for all the right reasons.  She’s got a great voice.  She’s got a great rock/opera sound that, at its best, can really work for her.

 

I think what might ultimately take her out is song choice.  She kind of fluffed I Love Rock and Roll this last week, and I could see her blowing a couple more choices and dropping out of there.

 

I’ve gotta say, though, I’d love to see her meld the rock/electronic thing, like Harry was talking about.  I could see her doing some real damage with Jane Child-type stuff.

 

And man, I’ve gotta hail her.  The judges’ bottom-three picks to keep the competition alive for nine more hours a year have always been filler before.  People who are mostly there to desperately cling to life and get themselves into the top then. They aren’t there to win.

 

Jena is going to come closer than anyone I’ve ever seen.  She might even be able to take it all, if she pushes hard enough and doesn’t drop anymore song choice balls.

 

Caleb:

 

This guy.  This guy’s voice…

 

I remember him just blowing it a couple of years back, and since he’s returned I keep waiting for the moment he just blows it again.

 

But I think screwing it up that first time has changed his life, and he’s changed it for the better.

 

All of his performances are first rate.  There are no missed notes, no missed cues, and he’s taking the joy of having a band behind him all the way.  He seems to know it may never be this good again for him.

 

That’s infectious, I must admit.

 

But having heard his song choices, I’ve gotta admit I have no interest in his record.

 

I wish the man no ill will, and if I’m honest with myself, he deserves to win.  He’s got the best voice in the competition, and he seems to want it more than anyone else.

 

But I wish him luck when it comes time to sell albums…

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What I'm Watching: Here We Are Again


(Note: Yikes.  I started writing this over a month ago, figuring it would be a nice, quick, one-off that I could do to keep the old blog fresh.  So much for THAT cunning plan.  Feel free to read along and try to determine where I grafted fresh verbiage onto old verbiage…)

 

It’s weird, man.

 

The Olympics came along, and suddenly you could totally tell what shows the networks had just plain given up on.  It was The Olympics vs. Burn Off Theater.

 

I’m going to admit I was cool with it, though, as it marks one of the last times we go to really catch up with the DVR.  Heck, we actually caught all the way up with Revolution, just because it was watch that or watch nothing.

 

And right now, we’re in one of those delightful fallow periods.  Everyone is either in total burn-off mode, trying to clear the decks before the last sweeps of the TV season. 

 

Or, they’re holding episodes in reserve, trying to take themselves to the top of the list and grab ALL the money.

 

In short, we’re going to be playing catch-up this week and then hope for the best.

 

The Walking Dead:

 

I figured we would be totally in for this one, since it left on a huge cliff-hanger.  But ultimately, we watched the first episode and then we fell behind for a while.

 

I can’t fault the show, it’s kind of icky in spots and my wife sometimes can’t handle that during dinnertime.  Fair enough.

 

And really, I’m starting to think that the major flaws of the show aren’t helped by watching it week by week.  It’s a slow show.  It’s always been slow, it will probably always be slow.

 

You know who complains about that?  People who watch it a week at a time.  The people who DON’T are the folks just now catching up with it on DVD and Netflix.  Because if everyone spends an episode wandering around and not getting anywhere, then they just watch the NEXT one, where they wander around and get somewhere.

 

The thing of it is, it’s also slow because it doesn’t pack in the story.  It isn’t a story show.  There is no goal but survival.

 

I suspect that when the show falls apart, it will be in a big way as people realize that it’s never really going anywhere and abandon it in droves.

 

And so it goes.

 

Meanwhile, hey, the show is back on and the first episode back gave us a little backstory and a young man eating a large can of pudding.

 

Who doesn’t love pudding?

 

But as the second half of the season has worn on, I think my wife and I may be all alone in kind of loving this new thing we’re getting.  For the last two seasons, all of our characters have been crammed together, with a lot of people getting maybe one or two lines per episode.  The focus refused to shift, and so the people on the show went from being characters to being archetypes to, frequently, not even being that.

 

And this back half of the season has finally changed that.  We’ve gotten long stories, often whole or half-episodes, where we hunkered down and said hello to some of these characters for the first time in a long time… and in some cases, for the first time ever.

 

I’m not sure if I’d want the show to carry on this way forever.  And truthfully, I think too many of the established characters survived the destruction of the prison. 

 

But it’s been a fun walkabout, and I give major credit to the new showrunner, who looks like he might even keep his job for another season.  A minor miracle on this show.

 

Agents of SHIELD:

 

So there have been some massively long pauses as they stored up their episode nuts and prepared to go full-bore on episodes through the end of the season.

 

Which… isn’t that far away.  I mean, really. 

 

We’ve got March-April-May and then everything is off the air and it’s summer programming time.

 

And they’ve just now, in the last few episodes, started to pull the threads together.

 

The issue is that Agents took a bold step and decided to play a very long game.  They kept shuffling in elements, creating a rogue’s gallery, and now this relates to that which relates to this other thing.  It’s a gutsy choice that had the unfortunate side effect of murdering the show’s momentum.

 

Will people come back?

 

That’s a good question.  I think the more important one is, can they hold the line from here on out?

 

Breakout shows… they break out early, usually.  Or they get a surprise boost early on.  Right now, Agents is sitting at its low and holding that low, with an occasional spike as they bring in special guests and promise that, yes, THIS week is going to be big and important.

 

If they go much lower, well, someone’s pay needs to be cut at the very least, but it’s more likely they’ll just start folding members of the team into the upcoming films and call it a failed experiment.

 

Still, with sweeps coming, I imagine they plan to go out big.  Plus, they’ll be tied to Captain America, which I also imagine can’t hurt.

 

Truthfully, I don’t think the show is ever going to be a huge hit.  They’ve bled away a lot of audience members now, and in their current time slot they’re up against some of the biggest hitters you can find on another networks.

 

But I’ll lay better than even odds it gets at least one more year.  Here’s hoping they can come back strong.  REALLY strong.

 

Supernatural:

 

Supernatural just go renewed for season 10, and I am so very happy, since the current showrunner set up his plan to make it there.

 

The ratings, they keep steady, and sometimes they go up.  Everyone on board the show seems happy, healthy and ready to do another year.

 

And I’m into the idea.  With The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, and talk next year of a spin-off Supernatural show, I could get more than half my weekly programming from a channel aimed at teenage girls.

 

Bring it.

 

The Originals:

 

It’s funny. I remember when this show was about two vampires fighting for control of the city.  And now it’s… man, I don’t even know.  They just kept adding in elements and burning through story just the way Vampire Diaries started doing, and now…

 

Now they’re getting somewhere.

 

They drop their first big death.  They demonstrated that they can, in fact, put together a bigger enemy. 

 

I think my only real disappointment is that they still haven’t gotten the hybrid baby out into the world.  I feel like Diaries would have gotten there already, but they keep holding it back.

 

I think it’s a B or a B- show, but it’s getting an A- for effort. Keep going, guys.

 

Modern Family:

 

I don’t talk about Modern Family much, but I suspect that’s because there’s not much to talk about.  They find the stories, they write the stories, they tell the stories, and I show up most weeks and have a good laugh.

 

The only thing I’ll note is that, much like The Big Bang Theory, I feel like they’re really leaning on making sure you see the promo for next week, this week.

 

And I honestly have to ask, who out there is watching the promo for these shows and wondering if they’re coming back next week?

 

If anything, I think of it as a deterrent.  If you turn on the show and start watching, you’re five minutes in before you think that maybe you’re not enjoying yourself.  But you’ll probably stick it out.

 

Whereas if you watch a promo, and think to yourself, “Who cares if Phil wants a pet lemur?” you’ve blown it for next week and that viewer might never come back.

 

The critics aren’t in love with the show, but, frankly, it’s still a hit, and it’s going to be around for many years to come.  And I’m totally cool with that, at the moment.

 

American Idol:

 

I thought I wouldn’t have much to say about the show, and… really, I don’t.

 

They’ve strived this year to categorize people, which is fine.  And more to the point, even with all that hard work, they’ve got what they’ve got, which is some people who can hack it and some who can’t, and some who will hold on through these next weeks and learn what it takes to improve their performance.

 

Honestly, there are people on that stage, as there are every year, who they should really just shove in a recording booth and start promoting now.  These coming weeks will not help them.  They just need to get on the road and start honing their skills.

 

And there are several people who are about to get hopelessly lost in the shuffle.

 

Just like every year.

 

BUT.

 

I gotta mention Harry Connick Jr.  Who has made the hilarious choice of actually judging the singing competition. 

 

Jen is all smiles and nice work and good try.  Keith is all good work and try to improve.  Harry… Harry is deconstructing the show from the inside.

 

He’s telling people to stay on key.  He’s DEMONSTRATING how to stay on key.  He’s telling them that doing all those runs are screwing them up.  He’s telling them that going for the high note is a trap that gets applause but not votes.

 

He dragged out Randy’s “In it to win it!” catchphrase and slapped Randy in the face with it. 

 

What I dig is that he’s not being mean (except to Randy, I suppose).  He wants to help.  And it is confusing the performers, who have been watching for years and have gotten used to being slammed and going, “Whatever, clown,” or being praised to the hills for showing up and singing mostly on key.

 

Harry is telling the truth and it is cutting people off at the knees.  He’s not even afraid to go after the band of his own show.  He shows up each week knowing that he will be getting booed by the audience.

 

And he’s taking it in stride.

 

I don’t know how Harry will survive the season, and I’ll be equally shocked if he is asked back, and if he comes back.  But man, oh, man, I hope he does, because watching people get actual critiques is just marvelous.  It’s like a singing competition, or something.

 

There is one big question, though.  I would have thought, at the start of the season, that season 14 of this show would be a lock. FOX has shoved about 50 hours of its programming into this show.

 

But the ratings are not good.  They’re dropping, week by week.  And while the show should be cheap (reality shows usually are) everything I’ve been reading has stated that this show ain’t.

 

I think the question becomes, do they get much, much cheaper judges and other talent next year, and pull another year out of it?  Or do they let it go, before it’s too late?

 

An extremely curious conundrum.  (For the record: There’s too much riding on the show.  I’m about 99% sure it gets another season with very inexpensive judges.)

 

Revolution:

 

I can see that a few million people are still watching Revolution, and it gives me hope that if they get to season three Eric Kripke will do what he did with Supernatural and launch it into the stratosphere. 

 

But realistically, the show is still just barely plodding along now.  There’s a lot of wandering, a lot of subplots and it only kind of works.

 

The show needs something, and it’s not quite getting it.  Here’s hoping there’s a big finish, because this show needs a boost to survive.

 

As it is, they’re putting other shows in its place right now, and seeing how the ratings shake out.

 

Which I guess means I should get caught up while I can…

 

The Big Bang Theory:

 

I feel like I covered this in Modern Family, but what’s with the promos?

 

Beyond that, well, this seems to be the year they want to push everyone forward, and so far it’s really working.  The show is hit-or-miss, some of the subplots leave something to be desired, but pound for pound the show keeps finding new ways to make these people fun.

 

Most of the time.

 

The big danger is that, well, they just renewed the show for a whopping three more seasons.  I’m sure everyone got a pay bump, and I’m equally sure it wasn’t as big as if they had signed up for a season-by-season pay raise.

 

On the other hand, how rich do you need to be?

 

Given the numbers the show is still pulling, I think the question will eventually become a Friends issue – do you quit while you’re ahead, or keep on taking the money while the money is good?

 

Glee:

 

Glee got moved to Tuesdays, where it is currently being violently murdered every week. 

 

They’ve already been renewed for a sixth season, but man, if I was running FOX, I’d see about how I could go about getting everyone out of that contract and calling it a day.

 

It’s been a rough year.  But they’re currently in the middle of killing off the Ohio stories and moving the show to New York.

 

And there’s juuust enough time to let this one die with grace.

 

Perhaps realizing they botched it the first time around, they tried to say goodbye to Finn again.  And they got it closer to right this time.  Paying tribute to Finn by singing his favorite songs (which were, clearly, chosen by the 40-something-year-old writers, but never mind), giving a really solid performance, having them lose.

 

That was all good.

 

And then Sam came out of nowhere and said he did his best, and I lost it.

 

Finn’s gave us one of the great moments of the show, when at the end of season three he put the woman he loved on the road to New York and said goodbye.  It would have been a great end to the show, something I said then and still think now.

 

And here we are back to the goodbyes and we can still make this work. 

 

How do you make it work?  Honestly, you’ve got me there. 

 

But I think you flash forward a bit.  You give the audience some honesty as most of the characters flame out of New York, and go home to Ohio to live the life they were always destined to live.

 

And maybe if one person makes it… that’s enough.  That’s honest.  Which is something the show could use.

 

The Vampire Diaries:

 

I’ve often said that this show burns through story twice as fast as anything else on the air.  As I type this, they’re really mid-season five, but anywhere else they’d be heading into season 10.

 

And season ten shows… they have some wear.

 

I’d say the show really works about half the time, and the other half it spins its wheels and pretends it’s momentum because they spin so fast.

 

Of course, sometimes it’s fun to watch the wheels spin…

 

Community:

 

The end of this season of Community is nigh, and frankly, it looks like it might get yet another season.  NBC is losing shows left and right now, and having something that at least holds eyeballs might just be enough to keep it around.

 

I think the year off did Dan Harmon good, or at the very least everyone is staying quiet about any last minute production delays or late scripts.

 

Critics are quick to say the show has been much better under Harmon, but I’ll be honest and say that I did enjoy last season, which featured last-minute showrunners coming in to punt for a guy who was fired.  Along the way they go their schedule shoved around, one of their cast members imploded, and they still managed to put together a funny season of TV.

 

History will, I hope, treat that year kindly.

 

It’s been a good season, with ups and downs.  But I think the real test will be if they get yet another season, and whether Dan Harmon can hack it without a year to get tanned, rested and ready.

 

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

 

Okay, I’m almost at 3000 words.  So, short and sweet:

 

Man, I love having these guys around.  There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of episodes of this show now, and still they find little ways to surprise each other.

 

And me.  And I dig it.