Every fall, TV Networks do their best (or so they say) to find the next big thing: the next mindbending, myth-inducing LOST; the next side-splitting, laugh out loud The Office, or the next genre creating Survivor. Fox, CBS, ABC, and NBC collectively hold their breath in anticipation that someone out there will watch their new shows, create websites and generate online buzz, and that their new series will actually find that delicate balance between “loved by the critics” and “loved by the crowd.”
And, inevitably, every fall TV Networks get paranoid and restless. They cut shows after one episode, or after one big drop from week to week. They’re so afraid of losing money, they’d rather put out cheap mindless reality junk than invest in an hour long drama or half hour scripted comedy that isn’t doing well in the ratings. It’s easier to cut and run than develop and invest. (Some exceptions are out there, such as Jericho and Friday Night Lights. Both series were loved by critics, but didn’t have huge followings. However, once the networks cut them, there was such a large uproar from the relatively small crowd that DID watch them, that they were ultimately able to persuade the networks to bring them back on! You can actually view all series that were cut in ’08-09 at this website, and you’ll notice that many of the shows have a “petition link” where you can do your best to help resurrect the show.) Look at NBC this year, rather than roll the dice on 4 or 5 new shows at their 10 o’clock time slot, they’re just running the cheap and easy Jay Leno Show every night! (which, if you haven’t seen it yet, is AWFUL!) Even though ratings have fallen from a 15.2 to a 2.9, it’s making them money
So this fall, I hesitantly thew my interest in to several new shows, knowing that it’s likely that one (if not several) of them won’t last till the end of the season. That said, here are 4 of my favorite new series that I hope survive this (and other) seasons.
Why it’s Great: It’s been a while since a half-hour, family based sitcom has hit the airways with such originality, creativity, and… wait for it… humor! Modern Family tracks 3 pieces of an extended family, mockumentary style, in such a fluid way that you feel, in some way, an extension of this family. Each episode you’ll laugh out loud one moment, say “yup, that’s ol’ so-in-so in my family” the next, and maybe even shed a small tear at the end. The characters are fantastically written and even better performed. If for no other reason, you’ve got to watch it to see the breakout performance of Ty Burell, who plays Phil the son-in-law, in such a beautiful combination of “awe-shucks” and “awe-crap!” Modern Family packs in more laughs than The Office, and always ends with some touching moment that reminds us how important family really is.
Why it Might Get Cut: Writing 10 creative and original episodes is easy, writing another 10 to end the season well is a different story. If the stories and characters don’t stay fresh, the show could start feeling like old-hat. There’s also always the temptation to write in more “sexual-humor,” going for the cheap laughs (i.e. Two and a Half Men). So far, Modern Family has only mildly stooped so low, but that seems to be the default direction at the table when the writers are feeling stale. Also, if popularity continues, I can foresee the large cast all wanting a bigger piece of the pie, and that usually ends up bad.
Prediction for the Future: Because it’s so fresh and funny right now, it’ll easily get picked up for a 2nd season (it’s Best Series Golden Globe Nomination was well deserved, and serves as an insurance policy of sorts). If season 2 is as good as season 1, I predict a strong 5-6 year run.
Why it’s Great: Again, originality wins out here. A mysterious global event causes everyone to black out simultaneously for two minutes and seventeen seconds, and each person sees a glimpse of their lives six months from now. When they wake up, everyone is left wondering if what they saw will actually happen. It’s a great time-bending, mind-warping adventure, as characters wrestle with whether or not their futures are set in stone. It’s more instantly gratifying than, say, LOST, as questions are more quickly answered. High concept, and so far, high execution.
Why it Might Get Cut: Lack of compelling characters. Or, maybe, lack of good-acting characters. LOST was so successful not because of the crazy mythology of the story, but because the characters drew you in, and you were compelled to keep watching to see what happens next to THEM, not necessarily the story. Flash Forward, however, has not yet created those characters. Leading the way is Joseph Fiennes, as FBI agent Mark Benford, and that could be the problem. Fiennes seems to have one gear in his acting transmission, one emotion in his repertoire. Unfortunately you find yourself laughing at the wrong times, because his acting often seems out of place. A good story can only take you so far, but if we (the audience) doesn’t start feeling invested in them (the characters) I fear people will stop watching.
Prediction for the Future: It really depends on how well they end this season. I hear they will answer most all of “season-one” questions (much unlike LOST), and head in to season two with all new plot lines. I predict season two will be less original, and more desperate. Look for mid-season cancellation during it’s second year.
Why it’s Great: Glee sort of defies convention. If you just watch the promos for it, you’ll probably find yourself wondering what all the hype is about. On the surface it appears a little silly, a lot dorky, and quirky but not quirky enough to work. However, give it a full episode (other than the dismal episode 11, “Hairography”) and you’ll quickly see that the silliness is endearing, the dorkiness is actually charming, and there’s just enough quirk to work. The characters are perfectly cast, written, and performed. The story lines (other than the pregnancies, which can be distracting) are fresh and engaging. The concept is original. And Jane Lynch, who plays cheer coach Sue Syllvester, delightfully steals every scene with side-splitting hilarity. The musical arrangements range from good to great. But I think what makes this truly great is the chemistry between the actors, and the tenderness by which the writers handle complex story lines (such as “out-of-the-closet Kurt and his relationship with his dad. The best on screen portrayal I’ve seen of this difficult dynamic).
Why it Might Get Cut: America runs on fads. Right now, musical shows and movies is pretty fadish. If the public decides they’re done with High School Musical, then Glee could be right behind. What also worries me, is that the musical numbers too often come across as unbelievable. Not in the “good” sense of the word, but in the sense of, “that doesn’t look or sound right, it’s hard to believe.” I do wish the editors of the show could make the musical recordings sound a little more “live,” so that when it’s dubbed over the actors we at least get the slightest impression they’re actually singing. Bad lip-synching-karaoke can be a little taxing to watch.
Prediction for the Future: If the 4 Golden Globe Nominations are any indicator (Best Series, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress) this show is gonna stick around for a while. Add to that the incredible success of the shows musical pieces being download on iTunes and purchases as albums, and I think a solid four to five seasons are not out of the question.
Why it’s Great: Because deep down we all wonder, at some point or another, what it would be like if aliens actually showed up on or planet. Would they be peaceful and friendly? Would they look to destroy us with advanced technology and intelligence? Would they come thinking they’re superior, only to find that they can actually be defeated by throwing a glass of water at them? (think “Signs” by M Night). Whatever the outcome, we love to ponder the process. V, so far, is proving to be a great version of that story. The production value is high (good special effects, great sets and costumes), and the acting is usually better than that found on Flash Forward. The premise, I think, is great: Visitors arrive to earth and pretend to come in peace, offering advanced medical technology to cure our sickness and diseases. But prior to their arrival en masse, visitors have actually been coming to earth for years and infiltrating every aspect of our culture (disguised as real humans, of course). So there are V’s in Federal Government, in religious leadership, in military, etc (very Men in Black). But there are also small groups of people who have discovered this secret, and are working to expose the V’s, along with the help of some “actual” V’s who have switched allegiance and are helping the humans. That’s a pretty good place to start, if you ask me.
Why it Might Get Cut: If the story goes too “Sci-Fi,” it might lose a following. It seems popular America likes the “idea” of Sci-Fi, but not ACTUAL Sci-Fi. So far, V has toed that line well. I also have to mention the complete unoriginality of character naming. When the lead male character said his name, “Jack,” I literally laughed out loud. As though we need one more show with a Jack-protagonist: Jack Bauer (24), Jack Donaghy (30 Rock), Jack Shepherd (Lost), Jack Malone (Without a Trace), Jack Bristow (Alias) and now Father Jack Landry (played by Joel Gretsch)… I guess that name just sounds good when shouted out in desperation or excitement, “JACK!”
Prediction for the Future: I really like this show so far, but they’re strategy for playing out the first season is awful. They played 4 episodes in November, and are now in the middle of a 3 month break before bringing it back in March. Not sure that’s the best way to keep viewers interested in your new show’s first season. I predict it will finish out the year, but not be brought back for a second season.
As always, I welcome your feedback.
What are YOUR favorite new shows and why?
Do you agree/disagree with my favorite four?