Lunchtable TV Talk: Premature cancellation

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Do shows fail to find an audience because of (lack of or bad) marketing? Because today there is too much to choose from or just because the masses have questionable taste? (I know this to be true, and this is why I don’t much buy into the “wisdom of the crowd” or focus groups or anything that relies on tipping point-pleasing everyone logic. I, and most of my friends, are not the mass in the middle that wants to see lame singing contests on TV every night of the week or who once wanted more and more stuff like Fear Factor or Survivor or Big Brother. We’re not the ones who thought the title/concept of Big Brother was conceived with the reality show debacle that reality show “moment” spawned. We know exactly where Big Brother came from – and we know that Big Brother like tactics are exactly what are used to inform network decisions on TV cancellation.

So yeah… what about all those pleasant and sometimes fantastic shows that never found their audience, despite finding a voice?

I am sure there is a long list of television shows that I have loved – that you have loved – that saw a premature end. Then there are shows aplenty that started but could not end soon enough because they sucked that much.

Quite a few shows from past seasons were cancelled but were lovely: The Bridge, Better Off Ted, Lone Star, Party Down, Terriers. I still miss them sometimes when I think of them. And then there are some, like the hilarious The Brink on HBO. It was renewed during the first season’s run and sometime before the second season would have happened… HBO pulled the plug! I am miffed about that one and may yet be for a good while.

Somewhere in the middle were shows that were average and entertaining without being must-see. Or shows that glimmered with flashes of promise. And some things were just steadily decent.

I lament the loss of some of these – Gang Related had people like Cliff Curtis (a veteran of film of TV, who is currently a lead in Fear the Walking Dead); Terry O’Quinn (who will always make a sandwich of the bread-and-butter law enforcement style roles he commands); Jay Karnes (who is just the coolest guy in usually uncool roles). Most of these people will work no matter what. But it’s a shame when a cast comes together and works well but does not get a chance to see where it might go.

About a Boy is another similar show. Minnie Driver was sweet. Al Madrigal was silly. And overall it might have been a little mushy, but it was a mush not unlike a slightly sweet applesauce – easy to swallow and pleasant. Yes, I know – I seriously compared a TV show to applesauce.

And then I reflect on other show that I don’t miss but am not sure they would not have turned out okay – Monday Mornings, Taxi Brooklyn?

And then some, like Happy Endings, was vocally mourned by a lot of critics, who felt it was underrated – but I found it only rarely funny, often irritating and a lot less clever, funny or endearing than the aforementioned About a Boy. But still, it too might have been cancelled too soon.

But most of the actors involved in these undertakings landed on their feet elsewhere or already had well-established bearings.

Do we lose out on some of these things because we’ve hit peak TV? There’s too much to choose from or we have slow and poor attention spans? If that were true, the losses of some of these things would not still linger so many months and years after their demise.

TV renewal tease: The Brink

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No!

It’s one thing when a TV show just gets unceremoniously cancelled. It’s entirely another when a show you like is declared “safe” and gets renewed for another season… only to have the network pull out the proverbial rug from under you. Seriously, HBO… why did you renew and then renege on the brilliant, satirical The Brink?

Tease!

Lunchtable TV Talk: Hemlock Grove

Halloween in New York
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It’s a stretch and a pain to watch the third and final season of Hemlock Grove, recently released in its entirety on Netflix. I feel like I already invested in the two previous seasons, so now I just have to finish. It’s just *not* good.

I had some reactions to the first season (positive), but it’s progressively dumber.

I suppose this sort of timing is typical. Just before Halloween. Trying to be spooky and freaky. But it’s just boring and stupidly… self-involved. (I don’t even know how to explain what I mean.) I just started the third season, so maybe it will get better and remind me why I slogged my way through the other two. But starting this tonight, as I struggle to sleep with a sinus headache and stuffy nose, I hope it gets better.

Helloween

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Halloween has always been a bit “hell”-o-ween for me. Not sure – maybe because the adolescents with whom I went to school saw my house as the right palette for their “egg artwork”?

Alas, this is the second year in a row that I am not doing a Halloween-themed bake (probably because I did not go to the US to shop for supplies first!). But was looking through old Halloween-bake pics and remembered my “knife-and-blood” cupcakes.

Lunchtable TV Talk warmed over: The Affair

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I am still not really liking The Affair, but for the first time this week I actually felt a stirring of interest in my brain. Generally speaking, I like Maura Tierney. Her role in this seems a bit strange because she is meant to come off as some ultra-privileged and almost clueless woman – also the woman scorned and hurt (by her husband having an affair). But she has spent the 20+ years of their marriage blithely unaware, undercutting her husband and his confidence, seeming to revel in having the upper hand. She never saw it, and maybe it never really existed except in his mind, but as Tierney plays it, you get the sense that her entitled nature and habitual getting her own way have made her blind to the slow erosion and eventual disappearance of the relationship she believed she had.

It’s interesting that I saw this episode today. I had been thinking a lot about how relationships end, and how it happens that one person can be completely blindsided by a breakup. Of course it is normal that one person may plan the breakup and want it for some time before setting it into motion. But are there not signs? Things, that if one were paying attention and not, as I wrote above, blithely unaware (or willfully ignoring, hoping against hope that one is wrong?), that would be bright red flags? The tragedy of relationships that end, particularly for the person who is “dumped” is that it so rarely ends up in the kind of self-reflection it should, that would benefit. It often turns into a victim/self-pity party (which of course is fine for a while because it hurts. The pain is real). But how often do we – any of us – use a breakup as a genuine opportunity for real self-reflection and introspection?

I know that there is a phase in the breakup/heartache cycle during which the “dumped” asks him/herself, on a very superficial level, “What did I do wrong?” But this is not the kind of self-questioning that I think would help. No, instead, it’s a true assessment of what did I contribute (or not) to the relationship over time that led to this. Sure, sometimes people just grow apart. But in these cases where one person is just *dumbfounded* by being broken up with, I imagine the signs were there, and it’s not all one person’s fault (not that it is a fault-based thing). How can one look at the whole picture and find the places on the path that they stumbled or tripped but got back up again and kept walking without addressing the underlying symptoms?

These thoughts were swirling around in my mind today as I watched Tierney’s character. Even as she committed the ultimate fuck-up, she still was not honest enough with herself to start looking at the pitfalls and stumbles that put her marriage where it ended up. No, it is not all on her, and obviously, her husband had an affair and they split up. But that is never the whole story.

I was also struck by the fact that it is so rare, in all likelihood, that Tierney’s character would ever in a million years break away from the kind of rigid, taut life she had formed. A dose of divorce proceedings going south and a dash of pressure from a would-be suitor/longtime family friend and the general discord of her family life, I am sure she was worn down, and as the episode depicted, she got wildly drunk, consumed some edible marijuana … and realized only after she was swarmed by the multiple forms of inebriation that she had to go pick up her kids at camp. As soon as you see her rush off to get them, you know this spells trouble because, as the always responsible one, the one who holds things together, who never breaks rules, she will never catch a break. In the chaos that ensued in that storyline, I came to really feel for her character in ways that none of the other parts of the story had ever allowed for.

Surprisingly popular

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I am a bit surprised to report that the most popular pages on this blog are one in which I lament that I don’t have a passport from Côte d’Ivoire. And the other is a tirade about Coca-Cola and its presence in a couple of TV shows. Unusual ones for a constant stream of long-tail ‘popularity’.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Granite Flats

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“Holy smokes!” Yes, this is a “golly gee” exclamation that a couple of Granite Flats characters utter throughout its three-season run. I hoovered up all three, eight-episode seasons recently, and did not expect much. I was pleasantly surprised.

Some time ago, I read about the show but never quite got around to watching. It got some coverage after the first two seasons were over – suddenly when Parker Posey joined the cast, the show got a bit more attention. Christopher Lloyd had joined in the second season. Otherwise mostly stocked with virtual unknowns, the show came from nowhere. Or rather, it came from Brigham Young University productions (BYUtv). I suppose these two things made it more noteworthy in a sea awash with content, both good and bad.

The show at first comes off as ABC family, but less racy. Can you imagine? It’s a really wholesome production from the creative team at BYU. Yes, the Mormons.

It’s the dawn of the 1960s in small-town Colorado, and while the show starts by focusing on a group of three kids (who continue to form the core of the show throughout its run), it eventually unfolds to reveal the inner lives of several adults as well. Granite Flats invites you into its small-town atmosphere, and while it starts off a bit awkward and stilted, it hits its stride in the second season. The third season, though, is where things actually feel like they have gelled into place. It could easily have continued. The story was solid, could actually help you build your vocabulary (I do believe the word “mendacious” was used in one of the last episodes, and most treated us to words we don’t normally hear), entertained and was actually substantial family-oriented fare but without overt moralizing or creating something that felt as though it was “dumbed down” for family audiences. Created by BYU, of course, it lacks a lot of the darker, more salacious aspects that one might expect from modern television – no drinking (allusions to it, mostly), no smoking, no swearing, no sex. Its drama comes from other sources – mystery, intrigue, the “Red Scare” paranoia of the time and family relationships. And it comes off as surprisingly engaging.

It does shine through in the performances as well that this is something of a passion piece for the people involved. As the article cited above explains, someone like Christopher Lloyd can cash in in so many other ways, and this show was not really going to line his pockets. Clearly, it was a show that many people believed in.

A well-done period piece – and well-done enough overall to make you realize that you don’t miss the salacious bits. That’s no small feat. Sadly, though, BYUtv decided to channel its resources into other projects and ended the show after season three (all of which are up for streaming on Netflix and other sources).

Lunchtable TV Talk: Wayward Pines

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Ages ago, as Wayward Pines neared its end, I had planned to write about my thoughts about the show. I never got around to it, and was waiting to see if the show would be renewed (it was kind of designed to be a standalone miniseries season or go on if renewed) – it wasn’t, but by then, I did not care much any more.

Far from perfect, the show – a bit overdramatic, somewhat stupid and uneven, and not entirely clear – was still entertaining. Mostly it was good to see some of the actors (Carla Gugino, Justin Kirk and Melissa Leo, for example) in these roles, and sort of funny to see Matt Dillon. Dillon has had a long career, but I do recall a time when my mom and I were joking about how Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton features “serious actors, not ones like… Matt Dillon” – only to see Dillon on the show a few weeks later. Haha.

So yeah, I have nothing to say about this but think it was a good decision not to continue the show.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Madam Secretary

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Sometimes this show is attempting to be like something else… something self-important or something like The West Wing but it isn’t.

It’s not the greatest show, but I like it. I realized that it’s cast chemistry that makes it work even though it is not the best show on tv. And other shows – more starkly this season than any other in recent memory – may have a decent premise but fail largely because they seemed to cast in a vacuum. Like, “Oh, John Stamos is available. We’ll get him for Grandfathered.” But then the rest of the cast was assembled, one by one, in the same way, with no actual testing to see if chemistry existed – or just in a calculated but ad hoc way, i.e. trying to come up with racial equations to make the show look diverse or something similar. And the result is annoying and disruptive to storytelling.

Madam Secretary is fairly formulaic in its storytelling, but the cast gels well. Téa Leoni seems like someone who could have been a CIA officer who ends up in cabinet-level government service quite by accident. Željko Ivanek – well, he fits in everywhere. And Tim Daly – well, I love him. Well, you know, Wings.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Law & Order SVU

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“When did we become the voices of reason?” (SVU’s Olivia Benson as portrayed by Mariska Hargitay to Ice-T’s Detective Fin Tutuola)

Det Tutuola: “Sooner or later, we play all the parts.”

The endless Law & Order crime-and-punishment franchise is standard but solid fare, generally speaking – something one can play in the background without paying much attention. But Special Victims Unit (SVU), despite following the same template, is not as easy to ignore. I recently started watching the later seasons of the show, and find myself increasingly disgusted but still intrigued by the bigger picture. SVU shows a world that is very dangerous – with unseen risks lurking around every corner and potentially in every person you meet. It’s an ugly, brutal, pain-filled, cruel world – particularly for women and children. Is the world really like this? Or are shows like SVU making us more paranoid that we live in a world that is more fraught with danger than it really is? Is the show desensitizing us to real horrors? I started asking these questions as I watched episode after episode, and found out I am not alone. A recent Slate article posed similar queries, as the 17th season of the show premiered – the only one among the once large L&O family still on TV. Is the show, the article asks, “inevitably exploitative and fear-mongering?”

“…some story lines get downright creepy—like the arc involving sadist and serial rapist/murderer William Lewis, which ran over six episodes between May 2013 and April 2014. SVU was pretty explicit about the horrific things Lewis, played by Pablo Schreiber, did to the women he kidnapped and abused. “Some people were legitimately disturbed by those episodes,” Leight admitted. They were also “by far the most popular” of the nearly 100 episodes in the Leight era. “I will say, unequivocally, the audience prefers the more overtly dangerous ones,” he says. It’s impossible to diagnose exactly why, of course, though Leight speculates that it could be that the mostly female audience finds it cathartic to watch “these disturbing guys get caught, as opposed to real life, where they often aren’t.”

Personally, I doubt it is completely attributable to catharsis. I think some of it is that people are voyeurs. People like being disturbed… and some are disturbed.

I do in fact think a lot about the justice system, gender, sexuality and law v moral “norms” and all kinds of things as a result of watching the show. An interesting aspect of the show is character development. Most of the L&O series have been procedural and focused very little on the characters’ personal lives, and even though SVU delves further into the personal histories and problems of its characters, it never becomes a soap opera or character drama. We can see, for example, that Hargitay’s Benson is often driven by her own history and though skilled, sympathetic and a tireless, vocal advocate for victims, she is just as likely to be blind to the big picture, pursuing suspected perpetrators and refusing to see any evidence that doesn’t support her theory of who the criminal is, which we see leading to the ruin of innocent suspects. Luckily in later seasons, we’ve seen this counterbalanced by the character Amanda Rollins, whose own imperfections and experience lead her to question motivations and seek insight around Benson’s sizable blind spots. Interestingly the show provides a balanced view of the sensitive nature of these kinds of heinous crimes and how the law enforcement and justice system handles investigations and suspects.