Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Continuation of the TV Fall Premiere Reviews

I've offered up a couple of reviews on some of the premieres that have been trotted out this TV fall season, and here is a look at a few more shows I've been able to catch.

Person of Interest: The TV landscape is littered with crime dramas, and I often find the distinctions between each show fairly superficial ('Hey look, this one stars a female and is set in Chicago!"). This is one of the few crime drama/action series that stars Jesus. Well okay, it stars the actor, Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in Passion of the Christ. So, I wouldn't expect too much water turned to wine, but maybe the show will have a crucifixion.

The real twist that made this series stand out and cause me to want to watch it, was the concept where there was a computer that would be able to uncover planned out crimes and then John Reese (aka Jesus) would use all his ex CIA agent superpowers (just like the son of God would) to thwart the evil crime. It is a very similar concept to The Minority Report, which I thought was a pretty underrated film (it's also a Phillip K. Dick short story -- seriously how many films and TV shows have stemmed from this man's works?). The idea is that after 9/11 the government wanted a way to be able to uncover any other possible mass terrorist attacks on the country, and so they enlisted a billionaire genius, Mr. Finch (Michael Emerson) to create the supercomputer that can do just the thing. It ended up being far more effective than expected, because it was also able to catch smaller scale travesties like kidnappings or murders. This all eventually leads to Mr. Finch having access to the all the small scale crimes, and using Emerson to try to put a stop to them.

The show has potential to explore the whole idea of liberties/privacy vs. security. It is a world where the government has many cameras all around and is patrolling our daily lives in order to keep us safe. It is scary close to Big Brother (as in George Orwell's 1984 not the reality show). Unfortunately, the show keeps all that as a background thing, and instead focuses on the crime fighting aspect.

The show does have some layers, and has some clear long term story lines and twists in store. For example, we know that Ermerson and Finch both lost loved ones, but we've only been given a small piece of what happened. There is also the idea that both these guys are essentially dispensing vigilante justice, and so they're trail is being followed by a cop. It also has been made clear that the NYPD has some rather crooked individuals, and I am sure it will lead to many more major issues in the future. It looks like the series has potential for some intriguing long term stories that will help keep the show different from the other crime dramas.

The biggest issue is the show is pretty cliché at this point. Many of the scenes, lines and elements were snagged right from your typical action films. Even the vigilante being chased by the honest cop is far from a new idea, and has been used by countless prior films, comics, and shows. The idea of the computer predicting the crimes is pretty different for a TV show, but the next few weeks will decide if that concept is enough.

I really enjoyed the first episode, and it had a good deal of action and twists. It can be a formula that will become predictable if they try to always 'surprise' the viewer. The long term story lines either have the potential to be really compelling, or risk ending up being far too predictable. I liked what I saw the first time around and the acting was good enough, and I'll stick around to see if the show can veer from falling into the usual tropes and formula. The show's ratings are pretty solid, and so it doesn't look like you'll be wasting your time if you want to stick with it for the first season.

Pan Am: It is the second '60s era show that is clearly inspired by the success of Mad Men, but I am sure ABC is hoping it fares far better than The Playboy Club. It looks at air travel when it was at its apex and the Pan-Am airlines that was a major part of the culture. There is a focus on the Pam Am stewardesses that not only were sex symbols of the time, but also could be considered a symbol of female empowerment. I know today we wouldn't necessarily label the flight stewardesses of the time as the epitome of the feminist movement, but it needs to be remembered women didn't hold a lot of powerful jobs. Being a stewardess allowed women the freedom to travel the world during a time you'd have to be fairly well off to do it, and it was a job that was almost borderline celebrity for some.

Of course, the Pan Am airline's impact on the 60s culture and the feminist movement could be properly chronicled by a documentary. So, the purpose of the show isn't necessarily to be a history lesson, but rather provide some exciting '60s themed drama. Pan Am definitely kicked off the series with some interesting storylines in the premiere, and several of them will be a driving force for most of the season (and maybe series). In the first episode you've got a stewardess wrestling with the discovery that she unknowingly played a part in an infidelity, another stewardess involved in Cold War style espionage, the pilot wondering where his girlfriend (also a stewardess) has disappeared to, some delightful sibling rivalry, and some other hinted at tensions that will be revealed over the season. The cast is fairly large and there were several intersecting stories, but it was handled well enough that you never lost track of what was going on. It was left open enough so that you can look forward to the following episodes, but it resolved enough for you to be satisfied with the premiere.

The atmosphere of the show is excellent thanks to great sets and costumes. The show is also full of small little touches that play tribute to the time period. There was an ongoing story throughout the show where people would notice one of the stewardesses being the same person on the cover of the latest Life magazine cover, and also talk between stewardesses about how she is a celebrity now. Life magazine may not mean much now, but it was a massive institution in the '60s, and played a huge part of shaping that decade. I also enjoyed the scene where they showed how regimented and strict the company was over the appearance of the stewardesses including the dress and figure. In the scene, they had the stewardesses weighed and each was reminded of the necessity of a girdle. The first episode even made reference to major events of the time period including the releasing of prisoners at the Bay of Pigs. I got a chuckle during the Bay of Pigs scene when one of the pilots mentioned how Castro's days as leader were clearly numbered. As a history buff, I appreciated how it captured the mood of the time, and tried to insert many references to major moments of the time period.

The acting is strong and the story telling isn't over the top. There weren’t any real moments that I felt were too farfetched based off the time period we were looking at (the espionage story worked considering the Cold War hysteria of the time). The stories were understated and allowed time to grow. It looks like the show has some key plans in the place, and will allow the time for them to properly build up. Of course, my fear is the ratings aren't where they want them, which could mean they start rushing the stories and try to 'soap' them up a bit. I really liked the start, and felt it was one of the much stronger series premieres this season.

New Girl: I decided to give this one a look after it was getting rave reviews and ended up being one of the first new shows to get renewed for the whole season. Its premise is essentially a girl finds out her boyfriend was cheating on her, and as a way to rebound she moves into an apartment with 3 guys. I've heard of weaker and more farfetched premises, but sometimes you just ignore the silliness if the actual show turns out strong.

Zooey Deschanel has lots of charisma and charm and she is diabetic inducingly sweet. I am pretty sure her current lofty status in pop culture is driving the popularity of the show. The characters for the most part are caricatures and don't resemble someone I actually know. The situations are about as unbelievable. Despite saying that, the show does have its charm. I haven't figured out if repeated reviewing is going to lead to me needing insulin shots.

I didn't find it outright funny, but I did smile at parts. If you're into your relationship stories, they're clearly doing a slow build between Zooey's character Jessica and one of her roommates, Nick. They actually seem to have pretty good chemistry, though shows like this work better with the build up towards the relationship rather than the actual relationship. I'm not sure if today's shows have the patience to pull a Moonlighting or Cheers where they successfully waited years before finally uniting the main characters. I haven't decided yet if I like the show enough to stick around to find out which direction this goes with the potential love birds.

Suburgatory: I was shocked with how much I really dug this premiere, and it is definitely my favourite of the new sitcoms I caught this season. Essentially, after her father finds a condom in her drawer, a New York girl is ripped out of her comfortable surroundings and forced to move to the suburbs. The place where everyone seems to have an orange glow, most spend countless hours texting or shopping, and the women are more plastic than a Barbie doll. The show is really over the top and is a massive parody of rich suburban life. The only characters that aren't depicted in a ridiculous way are the main girl, her father, and her best friend. This is clearly intended in order to make them come off as the more grounded characters in this world that resembles Stepford Wives.

Jane Levy is the star of the show, and I really think she has huge potential to make it big. She has the girl next door charm, where she is really cute but still seems approachable. She delivers her witty and snarky lines well, and doesn't have any problem making a fool of herself. She does really well with the material given, and helps the whole show come together.

It is quirky and silly, but that is exactly what it promises. Unlike some of the other sitcoms, I actually found myself laughing out loud and continuing to chuckle long after watching the episode. The shopping for clothes scene was a great parody of the culture one expects from suburbia. I also liked the reference to people being so dependent on texting or the mom's trying to be all buddies with their girls. I also got a kick out of the scenes with the guidance counselor who is desperately trying to help Tessa fit in, but just makes it worse.

That is the latest batch of new shows that I've recently caught. I probably won't have time to keep up with all this new programming, which means some trimming will be happening rather quickly. It is always fun catching all the new batches of shows that arrive every fall, and then predict which ones will be annexed by Christmas.

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