After a fall season that was full of promise but failed to deliver many instant classics (Revenge being perhaps the only exception), I had high hopes for midseason. It seems that lately a lot of cool stuff shows up in midseason (since the networks are probably reluctant to take chances with off-centre series and a fall debut). Unfortunately, what I’ve seen so far has very few shows that I plan to stick with (including a disappointingly mundane new series from geek hitmeister JJ Abrams).
Starting out with an intriguing premise (the kind that’s de rigueur for any new Abrams show), adding some moody music and the thrills of a procedural, Alcatraz seemed destined for some success. The series sends Jorge Garcia and his blonde partner after criminals who have inexplicably returned in the present day after having mysteriously vanished from Alcatraz Prison back in 1960. Think of the show as a cross between the bizarre cases of Fringe (with the gross-out level dialed-down), flashbacks with Hurley as in Lost (with its own time-shifting cue: the rattle of prison bars closing), and the old timey prison drama of the Tom Hanks movie The Green Mile (I’m still waiting for a large character full of simple-minded wisdom to show up. Michael Clarke Duncan, are you still available?). At first I was mildly interested in seeing Garcia again, and there is still an over-arching, brain-teasing mystery on slow simmer, but I am not digging the blonde officer (I didn’t really love Fringe‘s Anna Torv at first either — heck, I still don’t) and the episodes seem so formulaic that bloggers have even written about it (see iO9’s post for starters). I’m kind of bored with the repetitiveness, so I’m not watching again until someone tells me that the show has changed things up for the better. (3 out of 5)
House of Lies
I had been eagerly anticipating the return of Kristen Bell to the small screen (We miss you, Veronica Mars!), and she’s not bad as a management consultant working alongside Don Cheadle and Ben Schwartz (who you might know better as the obnoxious Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation), but this show about a bunch of slick business-types who are completely into their own success and competitiveness (yes, we know they’re all hiding their own insecurities, but still) is just too slick for me (even the show’s tagline is “Survival of the Slickest”). I don’t love the characters or root for them. Plus, since it’s a Showtime series in the US, I guess the characters must swear a lot and we must watch them have sex and talk about sex all the time. I had hoped for something more funny, but more than that I hoped for something with more warmth. (3 out of 5)
Are You There, Chelsea?
Speaking of “more funny”, after watching the trailer for this series (based on the real life misadventures of comedian Chelsea Handler) in the fall, I was surprisingly excited. I’m not normally much into humour about drinking and partying all the time, but some lines were funny and, after watching her for seven seasons on That 70s Show, I grew to love Laura Prepon (who plays Chelsea). Sadly, this show is a disaster. I don’t know if it gets better after the pilot, but I didn’t make it any further. Nothing about it was funny (Chelsea loses her licence because of DUI — hilarious!). The humour was so broad (Seriously? A guy with curly red hair that kind of looks like a bozo wig is a deal-breaker for Chelsea?) but still didn’t make me laugh on any level — definitely not my cup of tea (or vodka)! (2 out of 5)
In contrast to some of the other shows that disappointed my expectations, I had almost none for Touch, Kiefer Sutherland’s return to TV playing the father of a boy who appears to be a savant who never speaks and behaves oddly at the mercy of a pattern of numbers. I’m not sure how long this show can continue if each week the kid is going to do all kinds of weird things that get his hard-working single dad into trouble trying to keep him safe. Everything happens only to reveal in the end that various people were all connected by this week’s numbers. I’m hoping there’s more to the story than that. In the pilot, we are introduced to characters all around the world who seem to be having separate problems in their lives. The kid sees some numbers which somehow connects various events to help these characters resolve their issues. It’s like the concept of “the six degrees of separation” (which was already the premise of an unsuccessful series a while back) made even more mathematical. I admit I was charmed by the show. I always like it when fictional stories draw connections between disparate lives (despite the obvious contrivance that these are fictional characters whose inter-connections are authored by the writers). Sutherland is pretty good as the harried father (no longer the all-capable Jack Bauer from 24). I really hope this premise doesn’t wear thin too quickly (but I don’t see how it wouldn’t). (4 out of 5)
So far the pilot’s debuted on iTunes, but this Broadway-behind-the-scenes drama has a lot of potential. Debra Messing (another TV return) plays one half of the creative team (the other half being a replica Jack McFarlane character played by Christian Borle — I don’t know him either) behind a fictitious musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The pilot episode already features a couple of songs from the show and they are fun to watch performed. One of the visual tricks the show uses is to cut back and forth between a plain-clothes performance of a song and a fully-staged version. This technique is a bit hit (nice when they are rehearsing a number to see it with full glitz) and miss (when ingenue Katherine McPhee sings a love song as an audition piece, it’s super-cheesy to see the staged version showing her singing it to her boyfriend instead). The other thing the show struggles with is bouncing between serious “inside baseball” dialogue about the showbiz biz, and some sentimental or goofy-comedy scenes where the tone is totally different — the heavy-handed soundtrack doesn’t help much. Imagine if the Aaron Sorkin drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip about being behind the scenes on a weekly sketch comedy show, and the Tina Fey comedy 30 Rock, were actually a single series. Smash is not quite that inconsistent, but it could use work in that area. Like Glee, the other selling point of this show is its musical numbers. So far they have been very enjoyable, but I’m nervous about how they are going to have enough music to last out an entire season. (4 out of 5)
I’m still anticipating a few more shows to come: The River takes a “found footage”-style journey down the Amazon with Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli; Awake has Jason Isaacs (without his ultra-blonde Lucius Malfoy wig) living between two actual realities where only his son or his wife have survived a fatal crash; and Avatar: The Legend of Korra is my most-anticipated show of the year — the sequel to the amazing Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series.