Posts tagged ‘CBS’

BrainDead

Well, gee whiz, that’s a bit of a disappointment … news broke yesterday that CBS cancelled BrainDead.  So … time to dig into my backlog and write this one up.  The paragraphs below were written before the cancellation announcement.

BrainDead has got to be the most brilliant show that I’ve seen on broadcast television in an extremely long time!  Invasion Of The Body Snatchers meets All The President’s Men by way of space bugs!

Everyone was excellent; Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Danny Pino, Tony Shalhoub, Aaron Tveit, Johnny Ray Gill … I could go on to name all of them, but hey, just look ’em up on Wikipedia or IMDB.  And the absolutely most brilliant aspect of the show was to have Jonathan Coulton sing for the recaps of previous episodes.  The show made me laugh, the show made me yell at the TV (in a good way), the show made me want to see the next episode right away without having to wait a week … I’m racking my (remaining) brains trying to think of anything that I didn’t like about the show, and I honestly can’t think of anything.

Alas, the overall ratings weren’t quite up to par, so I’ll be very surprised if we end up seeing any more episodes.  Especially since Tony Shalhoub has reportedly signed on for the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s The Price.  On one hand, that’s a bad thing, because I’ll really miss this show.  On the other hand, that’s a good thing … they were able to wrap things up well enough in this thirteen episode run that the season finale could easily function as a series finale.  If it ends there, I’ll be happy with the quality of the thirteen episodes that we have.  That’s far far better than shows that don’t know when to stop and keep going long after their entertainment value has worn away (Big Bang Theory and Red Dwarf, I’m a-lookin’ at youse!).

 

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Goodbye, Craig

I cannot tell you how much I am going to miss this man’s show.

“I’m not retiring.  I’m stopping doing this.  I’m not stopping doing IT.”

Craig, your new it cannot get here fast enough.

 

 

The Big Bang Theory

Is it just me, or is The Big Bang Theory not anywhere nearly as funny as it used to be?

I used to go out of my way to make time to watch new episodes.  Last season had a few laugh out loud episodes, but the majority of them made me giggle rather than laugh and there were too many that did not even make me giggle.

The first two episodes of the new eighth season had me giggling here and there, without any guffaws.  The third episode was downright painful to watch and was not funny at all.  This comedy is no longer comedic.  The seventh season finale set things up for the writers to rock the boat a bit — I was glad to see them giving themselves the opportunity to redefine the core relationships and allow Sheldon to grow as a character, especially since the multi-year renewal that they scored gives them three more guaranteed seasons to explore how these relationships can grow.  What happened after that?  The eighth season premiere effectively hits the reset button and we’re all back to the same ol’ status quo.  Now I hear an upcoming episode gives Stuart his comic store back.  Another reset button.  Yawn.

CBS moving the show to Monday nights also hasn’t helped at all because I keep forgetting that it’s on.  Old dog, new tricks: it became a family ritual years ago to sit down and watch this together on Thursday nights, so I keep looking for it on Thursday, not Monday.

A few days ago, my wife was watching a rerun of a second season episode on TNT.  Turns out it was an episode that I had never seen.  I happened to be walking through the room on my way to doing something else, but two minutes of witty dialog made me laugh so much that I had to sit down and watch the rest of the episode with her.  This is back when the writers were writing for characters, not caricatures.

The contrast between the enjoyable experience of watching that single old second season episode versus the horrible experiences of watching the three episodes of the new eighth season is so sharp that I have to wonder what has gone wrong in the interim.  Are the jokes tired?  Are the writers tired?  Has the multi-year renewal made them way too complacent?  Or have I just gotten tired of it?  As annoying as these characters can be, I used to be able to find aspects of all of them that I liked.  Now I can’t.  Sheldon and Howard were both so damned unlikeable in last Monday’s episode that I seriously considered just turning it off.  The one thing that kept my finger off the off switch was my realization that the episode was execrable enough to give me something to complain about here.  Comedies are supposed to make you laugh, not wince, and I’ve been wincing way too much.  Honestly, if last Monday’s episode was the first Big Bang Theory episode I had ever seen, I would’ve turned it off halfway through and never bothered to watch another episode.

I’ll see how I react next Monday (or whenever I remember to watch next week’s new episode), but the way this season is going I don’t have much hope for the show.  The multi-year commitment that CBS made in March means that the writers and producers do not really need to worry about ratings again until the 2016-2017 season.  That’s a damned shame, because it removes the corresponding level of pressure to produce a high-quality product.

 

Madam Secretary

Can we retitle this show My Damn Secretary?  Because it sure looked like Keith Carradine was thinking that more than once during the opening episode.

This show snuck up on me.  I had no idea it was in production for the new season.  I never heard of it until two or three days before it premiered.  And then I missed the premiere, so I had to catch it afterwards.

Madam Secretary would probably be a lot more compelling if we hadn’t already had several women serve as Secretary of State.

I like Téa Leoni enough to watch her in almost anything.  I like Keith Carradine.  I liked Tim Daly in Wings.  And I absolutely adore Željko Ivanek (although he will always be Danvers to me).  William Sadler, sadly, was totally wasted here.

Since we know Leoni is going to end up in office, I was hoping the show would start by showing us her first day in office.  Nope.  Let’s back up even further than that and show us how she gets the job.  Okay, that could be intriguing, we can see how she and her family cope with the sudden uprooting and massive changes in their lives.  We could have some nice family drama that plays out over several weeks worth of episodes, as she winds up her university work, works her way through confirmation hearings and then starts her position.

Nope.  “Two months later.”  WTF?!?  I feel cheated.

Instead we get thrown into a stoopid hostage crisis with one side dish of clichéd marital drama issues and a second side of conspiratorial stoopidity.  Sigh.  And did they deliberately make one of her staff members look suspiciously similar to Ollie from The Thick Of It?

The political drama feels way too clichéd — it’s the Maruchan ramen of political drama.  Another international hostage situation.  Yawn.  At least we had characters inside the show itself calling the situation stoopid.  Riddle me this: why is it that the BBC felt compelled to edit a non-hostage-situation beheading (that was fundamentally played for a laugh) out of Doctor Who because of current international hostage situations, but CBS does not feel compelled to delay broadcasting this?  I remember back in the day when the BBC had bigger balls than any American network.  Just take a look at the fourth series finale of Blake’s 7.  Or sit down and compare ABC’s The Day After to the BBC’s Threads.

The family drama is even worse.  Leoni and Daly have a smidgen of believable chemistry, but the two kids are annoying enough that I want THEM to run off to Syria and get captured by an Islamic hostage-taking group.  Honestly, when Daly turned up in Leoni’s office at the end, I was hoping beyond hope that he was there to tell her he wanted a divorce and was going to take the kids back to live their old lives on their old farm.  Nope.  Instead, it’s the writers letting the other shoe drop on a completely unnecessary and really stoopid sounding conspiracy aspect that WE DO NOT NEED here in order to tell good realistic stories about these characters.

Like I said, I like Téa Leoni enough to watch her in almost anything.  But not this.

 

Programs Vs. Programmes

Two things inspired this far-too-long post. The first is a comment that a friend of mine made in response to my comments about The Cape. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that he’s pleased by how little stupidity comes out of his television because he never turns it on. The second is a question that my son asked me, which I’ll get to further below.

A little background first. My kids watch a lot of British television programmes. And it all started with Doctor Who.

I grew up watching a lot of British television. Thank you, PBS. Back in the ’70s, PBS was my main source of edutainment — Sesame Street, The Electric Company, ZOOM, etc. And then two things blew open the doors of my TV-viewing mind.

The Doctor and Jo Grant walked in on the Doctor and Jo Grant …

“This won’t do at all! We can’t have two of us running about.”

… and a dissatisfied Mr. Praline tried to return a parrot to a pet shop:

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. ‘E’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it!”

PBS introduced me to Doctor Who and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and I’ve never been quite the same since. Those were my gateway drugs for British drama and comedy. Doctor Who led to Upstairs Downstairs, I Claudius, Danger UXB and other BBC dramas repackaged under the Masterpiece Theatre banner. Monty Python’s Flying Circus led to Ripping Yarns, Fawlty Towers, The Two Ronnies, and Dave Allen At Large.

I ended up watching so much British television as a kid that one of the first things my first dorm roommate in college asked me was, “Are you British?” Nope, born and bred in the Windy City. But then again, he got into college on a wrestling scholarship, so he wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Even in my childhood viewing habits, I started to notice a difference. Episode by episode, I enjoyed the British series a whole lot more than what I was seeing produced by American studios. There appeared to be an ephemerally higher level of quality running through the majority of the British programmes I watched that was lacking from most (but, to be fair, not all) of the American programs I watched. The occasional American episode would hit that level of quality, but they were fewer and further between compared to what I was seeing on PBS.

This was really driven home by failed attempts to adapt British programmes for the mainstream American viewing audience. My father was a big fan of All In The Family. Thus, I got to know and appreciate Bea Arthur as a comedienne through her work on Maude. When I heard she had a new series called Amanda’s, I eagerly tuned in. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was watching an adaptation of a Fawlty Towers episode, with some dialog sections lifted literally word-for-word out of the original script. Only … it was exceedingly poorly done. The characterizations weren’t there. The comic timing wasn’t there. It was godawfully painful to watch. Which is rather appropriate considering CBS tried again with John Larroquette in the ’90s in the aptly-titled Payne. That didn’t last either, for many of the same reasons.

Some more recent failures? The BBC’s amazingly engaging Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets became ABC’s amazingly dismal Defying Gravity. But I think I’ve ranted enough about that one already. And we can also blame ABC for having the gall to try to produce an American version of the BBC’s brilliant Life On Mars. The less said about that, the better. And nobody in our family holds out any hope for SyFy’s new version of the BBC’s Being Human.

All In The Family, however, is an example of a British adaptation that actually worked. All In The Family was a groundbreaking American sitcom that worked so well I never knew it was an American version of Till Death Do Us Part until many many years later. But this level of success in crossing the pond seems to be a rarity.

Another comparison that comes to mind is how our different entertainment sources treat the same subject matter. Let’s take, for example, a disaster story involving a volcanic eruption. In 1997, Hollywood produced Volcano and Dante’s Peak. (Yes, I know, these are movies, not television programs, but bear with me here.) Volcano was just plain stoopid. Dante’s Peak was somewhat more accurate scientifically, but was still full of dippy characters and unrealistic action sequences. Eight years later, the BBC airs Supervolcano, which was well-written, well-acted, scientifically down-to-earth, and (as my boys both admitted) downright scary.

Or nuclear war. ABC hyped The Day After as something nobody should watch alone, so I did. In a darkened dorm room. I thought it alternated between being dead boring and unintentionally hilarious. The single moment that came close to getting under my skin was the few minutes they spent depicting the bombs going off. That, and Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz saying to the other talking heads (Carl Sagan, Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, William F. Buckley) in the post-miniseries discussion, “The only reason we have for keeping nuclear weapons is to see to it that they are not used.” The very next year, the BBC unleashed Threads on the world. Threads scared the hell out of me. Just thinking about it still gives me a shiver up and down my spine as I type this. And recently, I finally saw The War Game, which the BBC essentially shelved for 20 years. Shivers, again.

In 2005, Doctor Who came back on the air. I had tried to get my kids interested in that programme for years. My daughter never could stomach the low (compared to today) production values of the old classic Doctor Who episodes. As much as my boys liked Daleks, they could take it or leave it. The programme’s 2005 regeneration, however, sucked all of them in. By the time the third episode ended, they were die-hard fans. I still remember how angry my daughter was when Christopher Eccleston left the programme; she absolutely hated David Tennant. As Tennant’s first season progressed, she started to adore him as the Doctor. Then when Tennant left the programme, she was angry again and absolutely hated Matt Smith. Now, after having seen Smith’s first season, she adores him. It’s so refreshing to see her experience what I experienced decades ago with Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, and Peter Davison.

In 2009, in anticipation of David Tennant ending his reign as the Doctor, we had our own BBCish Christmas. Doctor Who: The End Of Time, Nan’s Christmas Carol, The Gruffalo, The Turn Of The Screw, and Doctor Who-based episodes of QI and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. I also sat the kids down to show them Ghostwatch, which is a style of program that I haven’t seen done well since NBC’s Special Bulletin in 1983.

Around this time, my son asked me a question that I couldn’t answer: “Dada, why is British television so much better than American television?”

In addition to the titles I’ve already mentioned, my kids love Red Dwarf and Primeval. My boys love Sapphire & Steel. My daughter loves Coupling. My wife loves Blackadder. I love Blake’s 7. Shoutouts to Occupation, The Stone Tape, Karaoke/Cold Lazarus, Jekyll, Edge Of Darkness (Bob Peck can kick Mel Gibson’s ass any day of the week), Dead Set, and Sherlock.

That’s not to say that I think 100% of British programmes are 100% fantastic. I was less than impressed with the recent BBC adaptations of The Day Of The Triffids and The First Men In The Moon. I never could really see why people thought Benny Hill was funny. As fun as Space: 1999 was, it had more than its fair share of dumb moments, as has my beloved Doctor Who. The new Survivors was an unnecessary remake, but it was engaging enough to be watchable. The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy loses a lot in its translation from radio serial to television, but it’s still funny (and significantly better than the big-budget film adaptation). I can’t help thinking the average level of quality of British programmes appears to be significantly higher than the average level of quality of American programs.

So I’m going to open this up … why is British television so much better than American television? Or is that just a fallacy on my part? Does it have to do with the the BBC being funded by license fees and American television being funded by blatant consumerism? Does it have to do with cultural differences relating to how the viewing public expects to be entertained? Are British producers shooting for a higher lowest common denominator than American producers? Or is it some sort of cultural or perceptual filter, where only the better British programmes are making their way across the pond? (That may have been true in the ’70s & ’80s, but given how ubiquitous the internet and torrents are today, I see that as being unlikely.)

How should I answer my son’s question?