Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Prime Time Monday Mania TV Musings

This is the first big week of television show premieres; so I decided to join in on the fun and check out some of the programming that sponsors hope will draw in hordes of eyeballs. Since giving out my opinion is the purpose of this blog, I decided to give a recap of what I watched on premiere Monday. Just a warning, there is likely to be a spoiler or two, so if you were saving these shows for later then you may want to skip the reviews.

How I Met Your Mother: This has been a sitcom favourite for a few years now, and still has a lot of steam to push it forward. The fact it is still bringing the comedy and quality is pretty impressive since it is now moving into season 7.

The driving force or hook of the show used to be about finding out exactly who was going to be Ted Mosby's future wife (and his children's mother). Since that arc has been drawn out for seven seasons and the fact the entire premise of the show is 'how' he met the women, I think most have resigned themselves to the fact the lady may not show up until the series finale. I am okay with that, because the reason I watch the show is for the comedy and entertainment value (not to see some actress play the wife of some other actor playing an architect). Besides, the show has done a great job of fleshing out the five person main cast and so you care about the future of all the characters, not just Ted. The series has started doing a really good job of building up interesting story arcs for each of the characters, and has been hinting at major developments and surprises that have nothing to do with Ted's future wife. I think that is important, because otherwise, the audience would have got tired of waiting and moved on a long time ago.

The season 6 finale dropped some cliff-hangers and promised some major story arcs for this season. The biggest one being Ted is eventually going to end up being the best man at Barney's wedding. It is a pretty big development that the swinger Barney actually ends up getting married, but the bigger question is exactly who does Barney marry. It was pretty smart putting this teaser in there, because as I said before, people have probably given up on finding out Ted's wife, but it looks like we will get the pay off on Barney's wife by the end of this season. The other major story arc, which began at the finale, is the pregnancy of Lily and all the major preparation she and Marshall will have to do for the impending baby's arrival.

Both those arcs took up a major part of the focus for the back to back premiere episodes of this season. I am sure that there are a few viewers who aren't looking forward to the domestication of Barney, but I actually applaud the move. The first few seasons of the series, Barney wasn't much more than the comic relief and a caricature. As the series has progressed, the character of Barney has actually developed and had some rather major story arcs (such as the search for his real father). Sitcoms are not always known for their in depth character development, and will often have characters become dumber as the seasons go on. It is kind of cool to actually see the opposite happen here, and at the same time, the development has not hurt the Barney character and he has remained a highlight of the show. I am pretty sure Barney Stinson can remain a show favourite even after he is married.

But who does Barney ends up marrying? Barney has finally realized there is a girl he is ready to settle down with, and at this point that seems like Nora (the absolutely beautiful Nasanin Boniadi). He fell for Nora last season, but his typical commitment phobic self sabotaged the relationship. He got a second chance when she reappeared in the finale, and he then spent the premiere episode trying to convince her to give him a second chance. Meanwhile, it has been revealed to us (and Lily) that Robin still has feelings for Barney and wants to get back together with him (Robin is the only other serious relationship Barney has had on the show). You've now got yourself a rather interesting love triangle, and normally, I'd put my bet on the cast regular winning the marriage sweepstakes but I'm not entirely convinced.

Any series that has run seven seasons has a chance for plot holes or mistakes (especially one that jumps to different points in time). HIYM may be risking the same thing. I think Robin getting back together with Barney may conflict with already established canon. I got the impression at some point Ted the narrator essentially stated that Barney and Robin weren't meant for each other. Though the show also already had the moving on episode between them and all but promised a particular guy was going to be a major part of Robin's life (only for that guy to last a whole half a season before shipping out of New York). I am sure it is a matter of the writers not having everything planned super far in advance. We may end up with some storyline contradictions, but I also think the payoff can be satisfying no matter who it ends up being.

I'm also a big fan of the Lily and Marshall having a baby storyline, and not just because I can relate to the jitters of a first child. I think it has a lot of potential for solid storytelling, humour and heart. The show has proven it can do a pretty good job at balancing emotional storytelling with silly humour with last year's storyline of Marshall's father passing away. The upcoming baby has already presented several different storylines and humorous moments. I like that the baby has also forced the Marshall character to try to grow up and start being a man his child would be proud of. The idea of being a provider and a role model is something that is etched in many fathers, and I can relate to the feelings the Marshal character is experiencing and wrestling with. It looks like the show will be presenting his struggles in a thoughtful but still humorous way. The first episode took the humorous approach with the couple trying to hide the fact she is pregnant, since they wanted to wait 3 months. This led to Marshall having to down huge amounts of alcohol since he was now drinking for two (Lily had to accept alcohol in order to avoid revealing she is pregnant). The second episode dealt with Marshall feeling the pressure of being a responsible father and trying to find the big job to support his family. Of course that element actually had a lot of humour too (Beercules!). I hope this story arc remains a big focus of the season, because I do appreciate the fact HIMYM isn't just about relationships, but deals with the other matters adults are confronted with daily.

I was a big fan of the back to back episodes, and it has got me really excited about this season. It looks like the writers are really focused and have an end point in mind. I think it will make for a tight and well-crafted season. Plus the first two episodes not only dropped a lot of exciting hints towards the future but it also provided some pretty great moments as well. The Barney and Robin dance number was the right kind of campy and hokey that makes the show endearing. Marshall's sweeping proclamation of never getting drunk again, and then doing it immediately after (and in the most juvenile and embarrassing way possible) was a great laugh. Actually, the whole storyline with Marshall trying to get a less than ideal video taken off the internet was pure genius with great stuff like finding out he was pledging for a sorority that didn't exists or his friend having a drinking challenge with himself. There was the sweet and emotional moment of Robin helping Barney say the right words on the phone to win back Nora, while you knew those words were exactly what she was thinking about their own relationship. Barney's testing out his 'pick up' routines on Cleveland was classic Stinson, and provided some funny moments (even if the nails were gross). You had the mix of humour and endearing when Barney told Nora all the lies he ever said to get sex, and then promised he would prove his truthfulness by staying in the diner until she returned. The Lenny Kravitz gag was predictable but also well done. Martin Short made an excellent appearance as Marshall's prospective employer and I look forward to more episodes with him (he played his character so well). And I am sure I am missing out on some really awesome moments.

All in all, it was one of the best episodes of HIMYM in a long time and a really great way to kick off this season. I am looking forward to what should be a pretty funny, sweet and compelling season and prove that HIMYM is definitely one of the more stellar shows on the air.

2 Broke Girls: I watched the premiere mostly based off the fact it was becoming one of the critical darlings for the new crop of shows. I thought if there was the possibility for a gem, then I wanted to be on the ground floor.

My first impression was that it was okay. It was decent enough that I'm willing to give it another shot, and I also realize series premieres are not always the best episode to base a series off. It is still at the time where the show is feeling itself out and trying to introduce the characters you'll be investing your time in. I'm a big fan of The Office, Seinfeld, and Friends, and all three of those series had pretty weak premieres but ended up finding their groove fast enough.

The two main leads are pretty strong, and I like their portrayal of working class girls. They are independent, smart, witty and driven. They aren't relying on men, and it looks like the show won't be focusing on relationships. For a show about two young ladies, it is refreshing they're not going to make dating relationships a key part of show (this of course may change if the ratings aren't strong with this format). They've also tried to give both leads some depth and real personality. You have the formerly rich girl, Caroline Channing (played by Beth Behrs) who lost all her wealth thanks to her millionaire dad being thrown in jail. The character is a bit of a fish out of water and a rich girl not used to being in that part of New York. She has no clue how to be a waitress. But at the same time she has a strong business sense and is well educated. I was happy to see they just didn't go with the dumb, rich, blond stereotype, but actually allowed her to have some brains and wits. Yes, she isn't good at waitressing or used to this new lifestyle, but she also isn't a complete buffoon. Max Black (Kat Dennings) is your working class girl who is holding down two jobs, supports a dead beat boyfriend, and doesn't know her father. Yes, it isn't the freshest character ever, but again, she is smart and strong willed. Even in 2011, we don't always get female characters that are this self-reliant and intelligent, especially in the world of sitcoms. I really do appreciate the fact they have two female leads you can actually like.

It reminds me of a modernized Laverne & Shirley, and I am sure they wanted me to make that connection too. You've got two blue collar girls (well, one was initially a New York socialite) who don't initially mesh with each other, but eventually bond in an attempt to help each other out (also like a modern Odd Couple). In this case, the business savvy Caroline sees potential in starting up a cupcake shop, since Max bakes a mean cupcake. The problem is they don't have the overhead to make it work, and so right now they plan on working two full time jobs with the goal of eventually starting the shop. Hopefully, they can do it before that trend dies out, but I'm sure the show will come up with a new trend if the show is still here in a few years. Though at the same time, the girls planned time frame was to have the funds within a year, which will have to change if they plan for this concept and series to last longer (without constant contrived scenarios to keep them poor).

I liked the concept of strong female characters. I also felt they both provided witty banter. I laughed at some points, and it had genuinely funny moments. It also had some jokes that landed like bricks. It has the problem of wanting to be a bit of a risqué comedy, but still wanting to fit nicely into the network TV prime time slot. It seemed a little schizophrenic with adult humour being awkwardly mixed with family type humour. This may just be a matter of the show working out kinks and finding its own voice.

I also didn't really like much of the supporting cast. The show may be progressive with its view on strong woman, but it unfortunately had an irritating racial stereotype. The boss is an Asian man with a thick accent and he seems pretty oblivious to the world around him. Hopefully, the character is tweaked over time and not so irritating (and possibly offensive to some). There also was a scene where Max was at her second job, where she is a nanny. The rich woman was such a poor caricature of a clueless rich person and all the jokes in that segment bombed (despite what the laugh track wanted to make you believe). Hopefully, they focus more on the waitressing job, so you don't need too many of these stupid scenes with the rich mom (or again, they fix up the character a bit).

My verdict? Not sure why it was a critical darling, but it may have been the portrayal of strong working class women. I did appreciate that part. I think it has potential. At this point, I might give it an episode or two more, and then see what I still think about it.

Playboy Club: This is another hotly anticipated show and got a lot of buzz due to its setting. This is a show that largely exists, because of the mass success of Mad Men. This is one of two new shows that is set in the '60s (like Mad Men) and is based off major phenomenon of the time period (the other show is Pan Am, which is about the thriving air travel business at the time). I am sure this show was hoping the material would attract a large audience with the promise of grittier and more risqué fare. It is on network television rather than HBO, and so it can't offer up the same type of adult content like Dexter or Sopranos can deliver.

I liked the atmosphere of the show. It felt like the '60s and it had a different feel than a lot of the super polished prime time dramas. Though it can't be overly risqué, the 10 pm starting time gives it some leeway and it can at least give off the aura of the risqué (there is a sex scene in the bathroom that would at least warrant a PG 13ish type rating). The costumes and set designs are well done, and you get the feeling you’re in a gentlemen type club (though as the 'bunnies' make clear, they aren't strippers or escorts). I was hoping for a different type of show from the usual TV offerings, and in some ways, it delivers that with the unique atmosphere.

Hugh Hefner has always been known as a champion for liberty and rights. Playboy magazine would have articles about civil rights or abortion or homosexuality or numerous other hot topic subjects throughout its run. Hefner claimed his clubs would allow anyone in no matter their race, as long as they were interesting. He provided opportunities of employment to people of all backgrounds. So, it is fitting this show set in the 60s deals with many of the major issues of the time period. In only the first episode, it has looked at how homosexuals had to hide their lifestyle, woman wrestle over their place in the work world, the different challenges faced by a black woman, and even the control the mafia had in Chicago. It is a show that is clearly trying to be progressive and will tackle numerous issues. The first episode did have the problem of trying to introduce as many new characters as possible, and so hopefully they'll slow down and start addressing the story elements properly over the coming weeks.

The storytelling is fine, but nothing super engaging. It has given out a few hints to the future, and there is potential for some compelling television. Nick Dalton and Maureen trying to hide the killing of a major mob figure should keep the tension and drama. Carol-Lynne's jealousy over the budding relationship between Dalton and Maureen should provide some interesting fireworks, especially since her initial jealousy was misguided (though the episode ends with signs she may now be justified). Alice's sham marriage and secret life as a lesbian also has big potential for interesting stories (while providing some needed depth to the show that is about Playboy Bunnies). Brenda’s mission to be the first ever African American centrefold will likely lead to bigger and more interesting stories as well. Carol-Lynne dealing with the fact she is getting older and now trying to cement herself with a major managerial job in the club can also be interesting especially in a 60s setting. The potential is there for some interesting and provocative television.

The first episode had some holes. The entire death of the mobster seemed rushed and a little unrealistic. The show also has the problem of having a bloated cast, which makes it hard to follow. The dialogue is weak in parts, and I found a few times the characters were saying things that real people never say. I think the key is to try to focus on a few of the characters and really letting them drive the plot forward. At this point, the show has a few story lines that are a little too familiar to the TV audience. The jealous boyfriend who doesn't like his girlfriend being fawned over at the club isn't breaking new ground and a little silly considering the setting (the guys works there -- what was he expecting?). Even the mob trying to find their missing compatriot isn't fresh storytelling. The key is taking these plot points and going in a different and interesting direction with them.

I also think it was pretty cool that they gave 'cameos' to stars like Tina Turner (obviously not the real person, but I like inclusion of actors portraying major stars from the time period). It was cool seeing how much the Playboy Club was a status symbol at the time, and how it was pushing equality long before many other mainstream enterprises. Even if one may disagree with the portrayal of woman these clubs showcased, it gave women the type of financial support that no other available job could offer. In its own way, it empowered women. It also offered big opportunities to performers like Tina Turner, who would still struggle for serious mainstream acceptance due to her race.

I wasn't really sure where I stood with this show after. I'll probably give it another shot. You can only watch something with potential for so long. I also realize I have nothing invested in these characters yet, and this was an episode all about trying to introduce lots of them. I'll give it a few weeks and see where the storytelling goes.

It was a fun first night of premieres. How I Met Your Mother was the easy winner, but it also has the advantage of being an established show. I enjoyed trying out some fresh shows, and watching out for the next big pop culture hit. If you want to me check out any new show and have me offer up my thoughts on the blog, I'd be more than happy giving a show a quick review, if I have the time.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:24 pm

    I missed all of that. Spent two hours watching the series finale of Hell's Kitchen. Had no interest in checking out 2 and a half men with that new guy. I kind of wished the show just ended instead of pressing on at this point.

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  2. Emily watched the Hell's Kitchen finale, while I holed myself up with the bedroom TV.

    You'd think TV producers would realize by now that when a major character leaves the show, it is just better to call it a night. The show almost never lasts much longer after the exit. Though apparently, Two & a Half Men rocked the ratings last night. I'm still wary of how interesting the Carrell-less Office will be though.

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