Lunchtable TV Talk: Tyrant

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I thought that Tyrant had a lot of promise after its first, and even second, seasons. Even if it did not seem entirely plausible – or even particularly good – there were a lot of paths and themes that could have led the show to greener pastures in its efforts. But I have not really seen the potential come to fruition. There were hints of nuance at times, but now, well into the third season, it feels like revenge has led the mild-mannered pediatrician/heir to the tyrannical first family of the fictional Abuddin, Barry/Bassam, to become just like the rest of his tyrannical predecessors. And that progression just does not feel real.

Something else that does not feel real at all – or ever – is the character played by Jennifer Finnigan (Bassam’s wife, Molly). I’ve always had a problem with Finnigan, who overacts in a way that brings high school drama to mind, and has done so in all her roles. (That is, she always feels like she is doing an acting exercise – here, in Monday Mornings, in The Dead Zone… matters not, she just is not embodying her roles in any kind of believable way). The only thing that felt slightly authentic happened when she and Bassam suffered a huge loss in the most recent season, but her behavior and reactions since then, while probably logical in abject grief, don’t feel genuine coming from Finnigan. I keep trying to see past this or look at her with fresh eyes, but it is just not happening.

I could recount the previous season and the characters and their machinations, but that isn’t really useful here. The gravitas the show could have as a kind of pseudo-commentary on current events (in the middle east or in politics in general) is squandered on a bunch of affairs and sleeping around (really soapy shit, frankly, which does not have a place in this show). You know, it does not really interest me that Bassam and Molly are no longer in love or that Leila (former first lady, Bassam’s sister-in-law and former lover) never loved her husband and now loves some US military officer (Chris Noth, following up his turn on The Good Wife with this, which does not feel particularly different… in fact, none of his roles ever feel different). I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care. These personal tales add nothing to the story and no depth to the characters, so it’s a bit like watching something that IS a soap opera. I doubt that was the original intent/vision for this show.

Overall, it feels (and has always felt) like this show should have aimed for a shorter-term view of its run, preserving limited-run storytelling to ensure quality and focus. But I’m not getting that kind of feeling from this. And any goodwill or excitement the show seems to build ends up getting killed off quickly. (And while I was excited to see The Americans’ brilliant Annet Mahendru end up here, she has been underutilized.)

At this stage I am not sure whether to recommend this or not.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Heartbeat

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I wrote a bit the other day about how there is a glut of medical drama on tv and wondered about why some of it works, hits its stride, gains an audience (ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Chicago Hope, Chicago Med, The Night Shift…) while other stuff fails (Monday Mornings, A Gifted Man, Off the Map and a bunch more…). There are other shows that fall into the medical category but I would not put them in the broad “medical drama” category, for example, Scrubs was a long-running and successful comedy; The Knick is an exceptional prestige period piece on Cinemax – an entirely different breed from the churned-out, regurgitated medical-drama-of-the-week delivered on network TV; House was less about medicine and more about a troubled man; Nurse Jackie was a lot like House – medicine was the backdrop but Jackie as a woman trying to balance addiction, work, family was what brought the house down.

Heartbeat is another one of these that absolutely didn’t work. I don’t even know how to count the ways it did not work. But here are some reasons:

  • Melissa George (in general in the role – beyond her reach; in the role – too over-the-top and trying too hard/overacting)
  • The love triangle
  • The head of the hospital: Not believable as head of hospital; it’s like casting decided that they needed a hot, young, non-white/”ethnic” woman in a leadership role and checked that box off a list. It’s not that the actress was bad, just that the whole setup was stupid.
  • The flashbacks: Added no value, tried to build some meaning but just wasted time.
  • The outlandish medical stories (this was meant to be the hook, I guess)
  • The outlandish scenes (dance party in the hospital, some kind of off-site race, a flash mob in the hospital, etc.)
  • Gimmicky
  • Poor writing and even poorer dialogue: It was abjectly stupid

I could elaborate on these points, but it would waste even more time (and I already wasted enough by watching the ten or so episodes of this that existed).

Lunchtable TV Talk: The Night Shift

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Sometimes the stuff television offers feels like it’s churned out on a conveyor belt in a factory. Some time ago I watched the previous season(s) of The Night Shift, about a bunch of doctors working the – duh – overnight shift in a Texas hospital. It was not anything special – in fact when I picked up watching the latest season, I did not even remember that there had already been two, not one, seasons. But… I still kept watching.

Between seasons of The Night Shift, I started watching the Chicago juggernaut (Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago P.D.). Not only did Chicago Med (and all its gratuitous crossovers into the other Chicago properties) wash away all memory of The Night Shift, when The Night Shift returned, it felt and seemed a lot less interesting than it had been because it was a lot like watching more Chicago Med, only with characters I no longer remembered or recognized. (Weirder still, they are all on NBC in the US, so… burnout, anyone?

Despite the American appetite for medical, legal and cop shows, I’d think the idea of getting lost in the oversaturation of the theme(s) would be enough reason to look at different topics. I don’t know – despite the “danger” in being lost in a sea of sameness, people keep introducing new shows in the same mold, and some catch on while others don’t. I don’t know why. I tried to watch Code Black, but holy shit – I could not even get through one episode (it seemed badly miscast), but it was renewed – multiple times, maybe. I thought Monday Mornings was a good premise, and I liked it, but it didn’t last and its decent cast landed elsewhere (e.g., Jamie Bamber had a great turn in the deeply unsettling but immensely satisfying British crime drama, Marcella, and prolific and interactive Tweeter – she seems exceedingly generous with her time – Jennifer Finnigan is a lead in Tyrant). I thought a Jennifer Beals-led medical-supernatural drama, Proof, was overegged, and it too was canceled. Go figure.

The Night Shift, being rather lacklustre and lacking in any real hook, seemed like it might suffer a similar fate. Maybe watching Scott Wolf be an alcoholic surgeon “working the steps” (in The Night Shift) rather than Oliver Platt being a particularly intuitive psychiatrist (in Chicago Med) is the kind of thing that makes the difference. I don’t know. It’s not like either show is must-see… it’s just that this is what is on in the background as I am working on a million other things. It takes something really remarkable to make me look up from my work and pay close attention (and there are very few of those things right now).

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.

Riding the wave of TV shoutout – if you notice

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This week’s season finale (can you believe season two is already over? NO!) of Silicon Valley mentioned Varnish Software. In the morning following the air date, Varnish users and employees buzzed about this passing mention.

A few years ago, the unpopular, one-season medical drama Monday Mornings fairly prominently mentioned by name the antiseptic Hibiclens (a popular product from the company I was working for). No one at the company knew about it until I told them. Yeah it was not a popular show, and I don’t know if it was ever even on in Sweden, where the company has its HQ.

The difference in excitement levels, though, also illustrated the difference in how the employees in the two places use technology (and maybe consume TV content).

I oversimplify, I know, but I have worked in both worlds and think it’s fairly indicative. At the tech company, even people who did not watch the show found out about the mention. People kick into gear and try to capitalize on the mention in any way they can (at least Twitter or whatever avenue you can take). Even if the Hibiclens mention, which was even more prolonged and key to the unfolding substory, had been brought to the entire company’s attention and proposed as a marketing “bleep”, it would just have been ignored, as an, “Oh, that’s nice” moment.