Midseason TV 2014, part 2

The midseason period this year seems to be really spread out. New series have been making their debut, and a few series returning (kind of) over the last couple of months (with more on the way). I don’t think there’s been any midseason breakout hit so far, but there’s a wide variety to choose from so there’s a chance that something may resonate with the viewing audience. I’ve checked out a few of the new shows (though the most intriguing ones are still to come).

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Based on the Hugh Grant feature film, About A Boy is about an odd, socially awkward young boy named Marcus and his flaky mom Fiona who live next to a flagrantly single man-child named Will. As you might expect, a bond forms between the boy and the man by sheer force of persistence — the boy helps the man become more sensitive, connected and less shallow; the man helps the kid adapt socially, and together they learn to grow up. David Walton plays Will, Minnie Driver plays Fiona, and Benjamin Stockham plays Marcus. While I did enjoy the Hugh Grant movie, this show is only OK. It’s a bit predictable as far as sitcoms go. So far, each episode Marcus naively gets him and Will into a situation where Will acts like the immature guy that he is, but then seeing that Marcus is hurt Will has a change of heart and does something good for them both. There are a few laughs, but those are predictable as well.

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However predictable that show is, it pales in comparison to the unfunny flop that is Spun Out, a Canadian sitcom featuring Dave Foley as the head of an ad agency, with Paul Williams (he was nice guy Billy in Battlestar Galactica) as a new copy writer Beckett. I guess it’s supposed to be an office comedy but the jokes are so cliche and lame that I was actually kind of sad. On his first day, Beckett meets each new colleague by saying something that coincidentally happens to be the wrong thing to say (like saying how hot the boss’s daughter is when the boss is standing right behind). When there’s an important meeting with a client, Beckett walks in by mistake, and the client is (of course) more interested in some random ideas from him than from the pitch that the main team is trying to present. Not that it’s my number one show, but The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar is also about a father-daughter run ad agency, and blows this show out of the water. Unfortunately, Spun Out is another one of those ironically (or presciently) named shows because even after only one episode there is no good material left. I wish I could be more patriotic and give it more of a chance, but there are so many other shows more worthy of my time.

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While we are on the topic of shows that I could barely sit through one episode of, Star-Crossed made its CW debut a few weeks ago. Having the audacity to pretend it was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it’s really just another teen soap (and a pretty bad one at that) with some kind of gimmicky twist. This time around, there are aliens coming to high school. Aimee Teagarden and Matt Lanter play the ill-fated lovers. She’s kind of a normal high school girl (though everyone in the show is attractive, so the fact that she is also is nothing out of the ordinary) but he’s an Atrian, part of a race whose spaceship crashed in the US decades earlier. For some reason the Atrians look just like humans (attractive ones at that) except they have got some presumably natural tattoos on their faces. The Atrians are confined to reservations, but are gradually trying to integrate into human society and the first step is by having a handful of their kids attend high school (because high school is the best place for assimilating individuals who don’t fit in with those around them, right?). While there seems to be some lip service paid to the sci-fi premise, it’s just a transparently thin veil to disguise a gloss on themes of bigotry, racism and intolerance. Even though this should be a monumental deal that there are alien kids in your school, most characters just play out the typical, dumbed-down high school melodramas. What a waste of sci-fi potential.

MIND-GAMES

Mind Games, has a bit more potential. This show has Christian Slater and Steve Zahn playing brothers who are trying to run a business, but a very unorthodox one. Based on theories of Zahn’s character, Dr. Clark Edwards, human events and fate can be manipulated and controlled, so they offer their firm’s services to help clients control the outcome of events. Slater plays Ross, the more savvy brother who is meant to be the deal-maker. While I loved this premise (and it reminds me of shows like Lie To Me or Leverage, where exceedingly clever and intelligent men run unorthodox services for clients), Mind Games has already got into the area that I hated about those other shows — it gets into all the personal baggage of its characters right away. Unfortunately this show’s characters have some serious baggage. Not only is Clark bi-polar, he was also kicked out of his teaching position after having an affair with a student (with whom he is still in love), Ross spent time in prison for securities fraud and is always only a hair’s breadth away from doing something illegal. Even in the pilot episode, most of the drama was not about the client’s situation (which should have been drama enough — a young boy being denied money for experimental drug treatment by insurance company) or about how the firm’s agents pulled off the manipulation of the situation with the insurance company. Instead, it was mostly on Clark and his issues. I know that most shows seem to think that the way you keep an audience is to get them wrapped up in the character’s lives in longer story arcs, but I think there’s something to be said for just giving us the weekly cases.

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That being said, that tendency to get into character’s emotional and psychological backstories has become and even bigger part of the crime drama (especially now that shows like Dexter and Hannibal have been taking us inside the minds of the killers themselves). In Those Who Kill, Chloe Sevigny is appropriately cast as Catherine Jensen, a homicide detective who’s got her own haunted past to contend with while trying to catch serial killers. Based on a Danish series (so you know it’s not going to be full of rainbows and puppies), it is not an easy show to watch and enjoy. The first episode had Jensen tracking down a killer who liked to seal women in coffin-like boxes. The show is very psychological and pretty intense. To heighten the suspense, the killer is often very close at hand and in plain sight. Plus (spoiler alert) they don’t get him on the first try. Even after the crime was eventually solved and the killer put away, I felt like I needed my own personal leave time to get over it. I don’t think I could stomach going through this each week.

suits 2014

Last but definitely not least, two very different shows returned in two very different ways. Suits came back to finish its season after the huge corporate dust-up last year. Now lead character Harvey (played by Gabriel Macht) is a name partner, and he and Jessica (played by Gina Torres) continue to lock horns over how to run the firm. The cliffhanger last year was about Louis finding no file for Mike (Patrick Adams) in the Harvard vaults. I don’t love that they’re drawing out this no-Harvard secret. It was meaningful when it was an issue between Mike and his girlfriend Rachel, but with Louis it just seems like a contrived plot point. Also, they are trying to humanize and soften Harvey by putting him into this committed relationship with Scotty (Harvey’s ex-girlfriend who is now joining the new Pearson Specter). The midseason opener had a lot of backstory plots going on, but there was still a pretty good B story where Mike was handling a case against the lawyer who settled the case of his parents’ claim after they died in a car accident. It’s interesting how they deal with that baggage and Mike’s own feelings which change throughout the episode. I’m looking forward to some more good legal drama this year.

star wars clone wars

With a similarly short run, Star Wars: The Clone Wars returns from what we all thought was cancellation, with 13 “lost missions” that are available to view on Netflix. After the end of last season, where padawan Ahsoka walked away from Anakin Skywalker after she had been falsely accused of murder, the show seemed to disappear and Cartoon Network no longer planned to air the episodes that were already in the can. Thanks to Netflix we can now binge-watch more exciting adventures that bridge the gap between the prequel films (and tide us over until new series Star Wars: Rebels debuts this fall). So far I’ve only watched the first 4-episode arc, but it was pretty interesting. After one of his team-mates has a breakdown and murders one of the Jedi, a clone trooper named Fives thinks there’s a conspiracy going on and tries to investigate the true cause of the incident. Unfortunately, he’s right about the conspiracy, which puts him on the run trying to gather evidence and keep out of the hands of the Republic forces, and the Caminoan government. It’s a fun suspense story arc that even touches on the larger plan that the Sith have been hatching all this time. I am really looking forward to viewing the other two arcs as well, and even though these lost mission episodes are kind of a bonus, I wish that I wouldn’t run out of this wonderful series so soon.

Also check out Midseason TV 2014, part 1

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