Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ask DanielleTBD: What TV Have You Quit In Fall 2013?

I have received quite a few Tweets over the last few weeks asking me why I left certain shows out of my Daily Primetime Highlights, and even a couple asking more directly "Which shows have you already quit watching this season?" So I figured there was no better topic to take on for my first official Ask DanielleTBD than just that!

 (This is literally the only photo I have of myself working. It's
 from the Fringe set during The Vancouver Diaries: 2. I'll try to 
replace it with a more "column-worthy" one soon. Maybe.)

Admittedly this 2013 Fall Television season has been unique in that a combination of impatience, frustration at formula, repetition, or otherwise dated programming caused me to write a lot of low-rated pilot reviews. But those that were marked down from the outset are not necessarily the ones you will read about here. The Moms and The Millers of the season were shows that I thought were not only not well done but also not for me immediately, so it was no surprise to me (nor should it be to anyone) that I did not want to continue with them. Instead, though, there were a handful of shows that seemed like they had great potential-- because they actually did deliver well executed pilots or because the subject matter intrigued me or because I just loved someone in the cast (or some combination of all of it). These are shows that may not have hooked me solidly but which I expected to grow on me over episodes two and three. And these are shows that made me wish I hadn't been so lenient in the initial review instead.

Let's start with Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which I think is safe to say has been disappointing to a lot of people-- critics, comic book fans, and television fans alike. After Arrow swooped in last season and completely took me by surprise, my heart and my mind and my personal weekly primetime schedule was open to letting another comic book show steal my heart and raise my blood pressure every week. Add to the fact that I have thought Clark Gregg was underrated since The New Adventures of Old Christine (and therefore happy to see him get his due) and that both Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennet had the potential to be the next kick-ass Joss Whedon ladies, and this one hurt me hard. After the second, exposition-filled episode, I was officially done. Cool cameo aside, I was annoyed by the way the characters talked in sound bytes but almost offended by how no character felt developed at all. Not even Coulson (Gregg), especially if you have not seen the movies that this show picks up from (I have, but I shouldn't have had to). I know it's hard work saving the world and doing it all shrouded in secret and mystery and that will take a toll and close some people off (again, Arrow), and I never expected to go home with them or see them trying to have relationships with non-team members, but I don't think it is too much to ask to give them personalities. Overlapping banter, quick quips, and dead-pan glares all add a little humor and at times push the plot along, but they do nothing to round out or flesh out these characters who I wanted to care about but very quickly found myself rooting for Coulson to dump so he could go back to hanging out with Iron Man and The Hulk.

Interestingly, it is another Tuesday night series that I quit next. The CW's The Originals intrigued me initially for the fact that Klaus (Joseph Morgan) is such a reprehensible villain but a dynamic one at that. He is his own worst enemy (he kind of has to be since none of his enemies can really hurt him since he is immortal), and watching him navigate and manipulate those around him has always been a twisted source of fun. Is he an anti-hero or just a villain at the center of the story? He has proven, through his time on The Vampire Diaries, that he can't change, but should you even want him to? But The Originals, too, relies so heavily on exposition that it literally had me tearing my hair out. When I was a kid (and this is something I've never really admitted publicly, so well done, Julie Plec, you sure do know how to make us emotional!), I grappled with trichotillomania. For many it is stress related, and for me when I was younger, I think it was. But as I got older and learned to control it, it dissipated into the back of my mind as a nasty old habit-- one that can resurface when you're not paying attention-- and for me, it resurfaces these days when I'm bored and my attention wanders. And the bottom line is, because The Originals started with such a passive premiere (seeing the same events of the backdoor pilot, which I had already seen, from a character's perspective who was literally spying on others just kept us on the outskirts of the action so we were never really a part of it) and then followed it up with episodes that told stories rather than again let you experience them that I often find myself going "Who cares?" The flashbacks are a nice device to show through some of the exposition, but the voice over and the starting the story in present day as one character tells another some secret or piece of history or false promise just means you can't forget it is a distant device, and to me, that lowers the stakes because whatever will happen has already happened perhaps (in this case) centuries ago.

The final two shows I quit this season (at least so far) are ones that have been critically acclaimed and therefore the reasoning behind my quitting them falls much more into the "they're just not for me" category than the "I think there are huge missteps being taken with their writing or production". The first is NBC's The Blacklist, which has upped its creepy conspiracy factor quite a lot since the pilot, proving they are raising the stakes even while still guarding a seemingly obvious secret. The Blacklist, at least thus far, has been an "of the week" show with the development of Liz' (Megan Boone) home life only unfurling through her husband, who I personally would have preferred to see killed off in the pilot because delivering intrigue through him feels like a deflection and a distraction from what's really going on with Red (James Spader) and why/how he and Liz are connected. There is potential to deliver some great guest stars in that "of the week" format, but it is very much a format and one that has also thus far proven to severely under use some of those guest stars (cough, Robert Knepper). Monday night is not even a competitive night in my house, so you've seen this one appear on my Primetime Highlights more than you might have assumed (and admittedly, I quit this one later than the others), but I just want this show to be so much more than it wants to be.

In a way I feel similarly about Masters of Sex. This is a show that should have had me written all over it. In fact, I should be hard at work prepping a "The Psychology of Masters of Sex" post to go with this week's new episode right now. It has so many elements I love-- smart writing, strong characters, beautiful production value, Lizzy Caplan, Teddy Sears, and the Showtime brand behind it. But there's something uncomfortable about watching these events and experiments unfold through the male gaze of Michael Sheen's William Masters. Through my perspective, in this story he is a sad, insecure, creepy man who I literally do not believe got so many willing participants-- and probably wouldn't have, if not for the calming credibility having a woman on his team provided. I'm much more interested in Caplan's Virginia Johnson-- the kind of woman who would want to be apart of something seen as so risky and risque even though history rewrote it as revolutionary. We did spend time with her early on to get a little glimpse at her motivations, and I was interested in learning how much awareness they had of the impact they would have as it was happening. Since I look at this version of Masters as someone who started the work because he was worried about his own infertility issues, I feel he must have just stumbled onto a lot of the other things, happy accidents that made his work much more legitimate than it perhaps should have been... But then I realized I could just read the book-- the true story of these people-- and learn it all immediately, rather than watch a fictionalized, slightly glamorized (what with the soft focus of some of the experimental sex scenes) version, and honestly, I would just rather do that.

How it works when I quit a show is that I always check back in with them in mid-season to see if what they are doing then shows that they have worked out any initial story kinks and worked through any freshman series nerves. If my interest is piqued enough, I will go back and catch up on everything I missed. Sometimes shows start off shaky and then grow into themselves-- and more importantly for purposes of this post and this blog in general, sometimes they start taking on themes or styles that speak to me more personally, and so I give them a second chance. We will see if any fall into that category, but honestly, what all of these shows have going for them right now is that they do know what they are, and they are appealing to a specific audience. The shows they are making are just not the shows I want them to make the way I want them to make them. I'm just not a part of that audience, and that's okay; I don't have to be; not all TV is for everybody.

(And for the record, I typically only choose five shows per evening that I recommend. As I don't get every episode of every show sent ahead of time, the selection is made through a little rough math of which shows most consistently, in my opinion of course, churn out exciting and/or heartwarming episodes, as well as which ones that though may fly more under the radar typically have milestones, special episodes, or the all-important holiday celebrations on-screen. Choosing five is tough, and I certainly end up choosing ones in the same time slot more often than not, but that is that the challenge I have set for myself and my readers; you can't spend your whole night glued to the TV!)

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