Posted by Zan Romanoff
I'll admit that I did not go into Hello Ladies with an open mind. I know that Stephen Merchant, who co-created the series and stars in it as sad-sack singleton Stuart, is supposed to be a funny man, and he was one of the minds behind the UK Office, so clearly he's got a decent track record. But how many more jokes can we possibly make about unattractive, socially awkward men who've been raised to believe that they deserve the attention of beautiful young (and, inevitably, dumb) women? Is there anything more to say about how Los Angeles is (among many, many other things) a superficial city?
Not particularly, it turns out. The pilot is an absolute hackfest, presenting us with a handful of boring stereotypes-- Stuart has a loser friend, Wade (Nate Torrence) who is trying and failing to get over a divorce, an a enemy named Kives (Kevin Weisman) who's raunchy and rude. He rents his poolhouse to an "aging" actress, Jessica (Christine Woods) with a hot boyfriend who's using her for sex. The plot revolves around Stuart trying to impress one of Jessica's hot young castmates at a cool club and failing miserably.
I know Stuart is supposed to be an anti-hero and that the idea is that the comedy is cringe-heavy, funny because it's so awful, but the problem is that none of it is funny-- nor is it even that awful. The characters are all cardboard cutouts, lacking the nuance or depth that might make them interesting or even remotely sympathetic. Plus, to be perfectly honest, I've had my fill of comedy that rests on the premise that smart guys are awkward and hot girls are dumb. There's a meanness to Hello Ladies that goes beyond Stuart's desperate, pathetic machinations, a cruelty that robs it of any possible emotional resonance. We're supposed to cringe at Stuart's obviously flawed attempts to get girls but we're also supposed to believe that he's a fool for caring about these girls in the first place, because they're just as shallow and useless as he is. Only you can bet that by the end of the series we'll feel sorry for Stuart, in one way or another: it's his story, after all. The girls are never going to get smarter, though, or be given anything to do in the narrative other than be pretty and petty and disinterested. It's a misogynist formula and a tired one. So even though it's early and even though it's a pilot, I'm calling it: goodbye, Hello Ladies. It's not me, it's you.
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September 26, 2013 | 9:11 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
When last we left Nashville the show had descended into so much slippery soapiness: Gunnar had confessed his musical crimes to his producer and tried to propose to his pissed-off girlfriend, Scarlett, to mend their broken relationship, Juliette's mother had essentially committed murder-suicide to protect her daughter's reputation, Deacon had fallen off the wagon and taken Rayna down with him. She was driving and they were fighting, so when he crawls out of the wreckage, dragging her unconscious body along with him, of course he tells the cops it was all his fault. The second season opener spends a lot of time dealing with the fallout from last season's dramatics, setting us into a more believable story space so that the second episode can (hopefully) make some forward narrative progress.
And that's not even the half of it: there are still shady political dealings happening in the shadows (last season we learned that the car crash that killed Rayna's mother happened whlie she was cheating on her father with another man; now it seems that the father may have orchestrated the crash, making him the villain once again), and Peggy Kenter lost her baby but she's lying to Teddy about that fact. Maddie knows that Deacon is her father and she tells Juliette, who finally stops trying to leverage Rayna's coma for her own ends and pays Deacon's million dollar bail to show him that there are people who haven't given up on him just yet. Nashville is mostly a frivolous indulgence but it deals with addiction and its aftermath better than almost any TV drama I've ever seen-- certainly one that's not supposed to be about anything serious in the first place, and Hayden Panettiere is still stunningly good in her role, fragile and furious by turns.
It wasn't a fantastic episode and the music wasn't particularly memorable but the peices are back in place, now: Scarlett and Gunnar are broken up, Avery's back on the scene (and still playing guitar in Juliette's band), Rayna's awake and okay, Deacon is out of real jail but still deep in his own prison of self-loathing. There are fake babies and injuries that won't heal coming up, and a new rival for Juliette, and Gunnar's violently repressed gay roommate on the scene. It's a big ensemble of a cast and a lot of storylines to hold together, which means that the thing can get unweildy very quickly, but for now its in a reasonable place for a strong second verse.
September 25, 2013 | 3:52 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Joss Whedon has not always done well on network television. Sure, Buffy the Vampire Slayer got seven seasons and the accolades and Emmys it so richly deserved, but Firefly lasted a mere 14 episodes (thank god for the movie follow-up, Serenity) and Dollhouse eaked out a second season due mostly to FOX's desire to stay out of twice-burned fans' crosshairs. Each of those shows has its own storied mythology of Joss versus the Networks: pilots pulled and reshot, episode order shuffled to render the season's arc unintelligble, FOX's apparent insistence that Dollhouse be mostly about how many sexy outfits they could cram Eliza Dushku into in the course of 42 minutes. I am, I will admit, a dedicated Josshead, perpetually hoping that he'll accrue enough clout to finally do a show his way start to finish. While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which premiered last night, isn't precisely that, it's off to a far better start than could have been feared.
Agents picks up where The Avengers left off, in a world very much like our own except that the popular knows for a fact that superheroes (and one errant Norse god) exist, and that aliens are real and often unfriendly. Obviously there is a government agency, our friends at S.H.I.E.L.D., whose job it is to control said superheroes; there is also an Occupy Wall Street-style group called Rising Tide which stands in opposition to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s black-ops secrecy. Or, well, it appears in the pilot that Rising Tide consists entirely of a pretty young girl named Skye (Chloe Bennet), a genius hacker whose committment to her anarchist principles withers as soon as she relizes that Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is a totally good guy and that they have a lot of really cool tech on their side.
Skye is, for me, the most disappointing part of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She's meant to be tough and spunky, and while her hacks hold up (Coulson and co. can't get into her computer until she tells them how) she's clearly in way over her head with the big boys from Washington, and the show plays her like a young dumb girl more often than not. Her soon-to-be-love interest Grant (Brett Dalton) is equally archetypal, somewhere between wooden and uptight, a man too troubled and iconoclastic to play nice with others.
Luckily the pilot has leavening in the form of its more minor characters-- I found Fitz and Simmon's lightning-speed co-dependent arguments cum conversations particularly endearing. The action moves fast and sets up an interesting season's arc: some unknown entity is trying to turn humans into superheroes by pumping them full of every known superhero-serum (gamma radiation, among others), which works until the subjects' bodies can't take it anymore and they explode. This is Project Centipede, and it preys on the average man's desire to be better and more, to stand out in a tough economy and save people when they need saving, or so the closing monologues would have us believe. It's a little bit ham-fisted, there, but for a first foray it's really not bad at all.
September 24, 2013 | 5:52 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
So the Emmys were on Sunday, and with it no shortage of Neiling, Breaking and flopped attempts at Modernizing. Not least of which was characterized by the slap-happy host jabbing “our younger audience” by clarifying that television is “the thing you watch on your phones.” Cute? Sure. Out of touch? Ugh.
And so it began. The 65th Primetime Emmy awards, a Hollywood tradition long thought of as little more than a red-carpeted popularity contest, had garnered speculations and conversations in the weeks prior that were markedly different than the usual buffet of “will-she/won’t-he” gossip. Many cautiously hoped to witness the fruits of an Academy ready and willing to validate a rapidly changing industry, the appropriately titled golden age of television. An eagerness to welcome a landscape already rich with content and even richer with possibility.
The finished product indicated a pretty acceptable purity level. Perhaps not by Walter White standards, but by no means a bunk batch. (Save for the drawn-out In Memoriam segment and grossly blatant Cory Monteith monetizing.)
Here’s what we saw. For the second year in a row, broadcast networks were kept out of Outstanding Drama consideration. And while we saw a few contenders for lead and supporting roles in the drama categories, Kerry Washington for Scandal (ABC), Christine Baranski for The Good Wife (CBS) and Jim Carter for Downton Abbey (PBS), to name a few, none went home with a win. It was AMC’s Breaking Bad that took the Emmy for Outstanding Drama, the ratings for which continue to climb week by week. Last Sunday’s episode saw a whopping 6.6 million viewers, up from 6.4 million the week before. My girl Anna Gunn also got her just desserts with a statue for her role as Skyler Wife to Lord Bad. As well she should have; the positive reinforcement was long overdue.
Cable network kingpin HBO stole the show with 27 wins on the night, while leading the pack for the broadcast networks was CBS with 16. The numbers, significant though not surprising, are indicative of the shift away from broadcast network models and a transformed television landscape. Adding to the shakeup this year was a historical win for Netflix, ruthless leader of the online streaming movement, whose political victory garden House of Cards secured one of its three primetime nominations in the form of David Fincher for best director in a drama series.
Netflix at the Emmys? The force behind that conspicuous red envelope gracing my mailbox? The same Netflix whose logo this blog’s banner is fashioned after? That Netflix?
That Netflix. And here’s what it means. With esteemed personalities like Kevin Spacey backing the unconventional model from both sides of the camera, and promises from higher-uppers to create a minimum of 10 original programs in 2014, the cloud is the limit. The Big Four team of ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX has long played by an ol’ boy business strategy where higher ratings equal higher profit via advertisers. But with the introduction of DVRs and online video streaming, coupled with the impact of an ever-elusive social media jungle, the days of X + Y = $ are slipping further and further away. Pepper in the indisputable threat of alternative viewing platforms, only the beginnings of which are being demonstrated by Lady-in-Red Netflix, and you have an inevitable system overhaul on the broadcast horizon.
Another, sexier variable at play is cable content vs. broadcast content. Cable and online content is, well, sexier. And more varied. Characters housed in premium cable channels are more complex – more shaded, more jaded, more human. The way we watch TV is changing, but more importantly so is the way we think about and even socialize with TV. The broadcast network hold on the comedy sphere remains, as seen by ABC’s Modern Family winning Outstanding Comedy Series the fourth year in a row. But even with recent success stories like Modern Family and Big Bang Theory, no one is rushing to the online water coolers for a rousing debate about Jim Parsons’ psychological underpinnings. The characters don’t seep into our everyday musings because they’re not very interesting and even less relatable. And with shows like Orange is the New Black and Louie blurring the lines between what constitutes a drama or a comedy in the first place, it’s clear television real estate is not just building up, it’s expanding out.
There is room in the small screen club for these shows. People watch them because they enjoy them and that’s fine. (FOX’s new comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine is hilarious. Tune in tonight at 7:30 PT!) But they lack the interactive component characteristic of most cable shows that many find so satisfying – the chewiness of the episode after the credits have rolled. The ability to mentally chew and be chewed week after week by Breaking Bad and Mad Men is more than just the luxury of writers maintaining creative power. It keeps us talking, it keeps them employed. One-dimensional entertainment can be blissful, but broadcast networks’ golden egg of formulaic churn-outs won’t stand a chance against the golden age of television.
This regime change has not gone unnoticed by the steadily rusting big broadcast execs, though it seems the scrambled efforts to stay relevant in the drama world are for the worse. If you’ve scanned the bill for fall’s new dramas, don’t scan the bill for fall’s new dramas. Grantland staff writer Andy Greenwald sums it up like this:
“…the new network dramas of 2013 are a particularly insipid lot, a mediocre mishmash of throwback pablum and attention-seeking crazy. The dominant programming strategy seems to be based on that time-honored tradition of giving up on being one thing and doubling down on being all of the things.”
When you whittle it down, the 65th Primetime Emmys reflected a familiar sermon in a different dialect. The serenity to accept the cable networks it cannot change, the courage to change the broadcast networks it can, and the wisdom to stream the difference.
September 24, 2013 | 3:17 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
I don't think there are many people who would argue with the assertion that How I Met Your Mother has been on the air too long. Its nine seasons have stretched once-funny bits into gratingly overwrought irritations, and the show's weaker elements (Barney Stinson's abject misogyny, Ted Moseby as a character) have rendered it all but unwatchable. Still, it says a lot about how good the good times were that so many viewers, some of whom have quit along the way, are willing to come back to find out how it all ends. I count myself among them.
The big reveal actually happened in the eighth season finale when, after countless fakeouts we finally met the future Mrs. Moseby. Of course it will take the rest of this season for Ted to meet her, but the premiere has her and Lily sitting on a train together eating cookies that she's named Sumbitches. They're on their way to Farhampton where Lily and the gang will be attending Barney and Robin's wedding, Lily having ditched a road trip with Ted when his quirks got (understandably, I think) too irritating. Lily and the as-yet-unnamed mother figure out that Ted getting Lily out of the car is some kind of plot involving a locket Robin's been searching for and his still-burning flame of love for her, which: ENOUGH ALREADY, my god. Ted's been in and out of love with Robin for eight seasons. She's about to marry his best friend. The fact that he's still thinking about sabotaging the wedding makes him not just unlikeable but nearly unbearable.
Elsewhere we have the first of many attempts to make us believe that Robin and Barney's wedding might get called off: oh no, they might be cousins! This seems... unlikely, and proves untrue. In the second episode that aired last night there was another try, when Barney's brother, who Barney believes broke an old gypsy curse that doomed his family to promiscuity, announced that he was divorcing his husband. Barney was unruffled; he believes in Robin, and he believes in love. Let's guess that when the meltdown comes, it's not going to be on his side. Meanwhile Marshall is trying to get from Wisconsin to New York on a stormy holiday weekend without being a jerk, and also trying to keep his mother from accidentally revealing to Lily via social media that he's accepted a job as a judge in his hometown, which would be bad enough on its own, but the couple are already planning to move to Rome so that Lily can take her dream job. I have trouble buying this whole plotline-- I would seriously consider divorcing Marshall, if I were Lily-- but I guess we'll see where it ends up?
All in all I'm not hopeful about any of this, to be honest: I hate Ted, I'm not on board with what Marshall is doing, and I have no interest in getting jerked around all season on the Robin and Barney front. Probably the best strategy to adopt is Lily's Kennedy plan-- a G&T always in hand-- and the hope that whatever comes will at least do so gracefully enough that I can still enjoy the early seasons, the good old days.
September 23, 2013 | 3:03 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
So I'm not caught up on Breaking Bad yet-- I know, I know, believe me, I know-- but it's a scary project to embark on when every Sunday every one of my social media feeds erupts with howls of absolute agony over the most recent episode. It's like the Red Wedding every week. But for those of you who got hooked early, Vulture has a roundup of the best Breaking Bad supercuts the internet has to offer. Apparently AMC will be airing every episode back to back starting this Wednesday and taking a brief break for a Saturday of Westerns before resuming with the fifth and final season straight through to its end on Sunday. There's no way I'm subjecting myself to that-- I mean, a girl's got to eat and sleep--but it might be a fun (?) trip down memory lane for some. Godspeed and enjoy. I don't understand your life at all.
Speaking of things I won't watch: I made it through a full hour of the Emmy's before realizing that nothing would be more adorable than Merritt Weaver's genuinely shocked, brief acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy-- except maybe Tony Hale thanking his Tallahassee drama teachers in his own acceptance speech, and then doing a bit with Julia Louis-Dreyfus when she received her award for Best Leadering Actress in a Comedy. The memorials were sweet but too long and the whole event just dragged hideously. I watched HIMYM reruns in anticipation of tonight's return and kept an eye on my Twitter feed, and checked the winners in the morning. Sometimes the internet is a beautiful and precious gift.
September 19, 2013 | 11:16 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
We're three days into the fall season premieres and already I'm feeling overwhelmed. Luckily the folks over at Vulture have put together a handy guide for telling which show is which. It includes debut dates, times and networks for each of them, so you won't miss anything that looks exciting-- and you can easily avoid what doesn't.
September 18, 2013 | 10:26 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
There was a period from approximately 2009 through the end of 30 Rock's run last year when NBC was the undisputed queen of Thursday nights. Between Tina Fey's smart skewering of her own genre, Amy Poehler's hilarious turn as the too-perky, scarily driven Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation and Dan Harmon's years at the helm of Community there was a solid ninety minutes of excellent, hilarious television on offer every week, and fans of smart, cerebral comedy rejoiced. Harmon's firing made Community unwatchable-- he's obviously awful to work with and apparently deeply misogynist but there is no denying that the man is something of a genius at his work-- and in January of this year 30 Rock aired its final episode. Now Harmon's back for Community's fifth season and Parks and Rec is losing a few of its beloved minor characters and in any event they're both old guard, established and critically beloved but unlikely to become the ratings juggernauts that execs are always on the hunt for.
So stepping up to take on that mantle is Fox's Tuesday lineup, another lady-heavy arrary of half-hour comedies. The fall season kicked off last night with the series premiere of Brooklyn Nine Nine starring Andy Samberg as a boyish cop who can't take anything seriously, and the pilot was as incredibly dumb as previews had suggested it might be. If the hour-long pilot tends to be bad the half hour is usually approximately this awful, full of broad strokes at establishing character and not much else, so I'll give it a few weeks to improve, but oh my god is it not looking promising. After that was the third season premiere of New Girl, one of my favorite shows currently airing-- I could sometimes live without Zooey Deschanel's Jess Day but all three of the main male cast members are so, so perfect at what they do that it hardly matters. Now that Jess and Nick (Jake Johnson) are officially a couple their storyline floundered a little bit, but that was expected as far as I'm concerned-- after a season's worth of will-they-won't-they it's always hard to figure out how to handle, okay, yeah, they totally will-- and Schmidt (Max Greenfield) forcing Winston (Lamorne Morris) to be his best friend while Winston tried to solve jigsaw puzzles in his bathrobe was exactly the kind of all-in character-centric humor that New Girl excels at. I already wrote about the first episode of The Mindy Project's second season, which was available as a sneak peak on Hulu last week, here.
Basically it's still uneven, but it's the strongest lineup I've seen yet. We'll see how Brooklyn Nine Nine does with its target young-male demographic in the face of Joss Whedon's highly anticipated Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it premieres next week.