I love this time of year, as it is the beginning of a new year of American Television. In the USA, tons of big new shows premiere within less than one month in “fall.” These premiers are littered with average crime procedurals and terrible sitcoms that will get cancelled by February. I will watch those to mock them. But the real excitement comes from watching to find the surprise hit show – that show that you take in close to your heart. A new Pushing Daisies, or Middleman. And, spaced out in the crush are the heavy hitters; the big new shows made by big names and with big stars. This is the most exciting fortnight in American Television, and the excitement runs like Christmas morning – where you can see a whole bunch o’ presents, but are not yet sure what they are.
So this season I decided to set myself a challenge. To watch, and review, the debut episodes of every new scripted show, as listed on the tvguide.com fall preview guide. All twenty-three of them.
That includes shows you should be excited for, like The Event or Broadwalk Empire, and the ones that will surely be deader than a dead parrot. If I laugh even once at Outsourced, it will be a shock.
And so it begins:
Terriers - FX
This is the sort of show which should be incredibly formulaic. A pair of middle-aged unlicenced private detectives, get hired every week to go and... privately... detect something. One is younger than the other, and the older is more jaded, having an ex-wife and an ex-drinking problem. But the show feels much more endearing than that. It works hard to not play simply into a formula, clearly channelling Veronica Mars. It has the same fast, quippy dialogue, the same fake identities and a cute dog. Oh, and it’s hinting at a longer running mystery. So that is all good.
The tone of the show is great, with moments of hilarity and seriousness, and it has a certain darkness that makes it clear these characters are not living a dream. Oh course, a show can’t be judged on just one meeting, and that is one of the big problems I just know I am going to keep running up against in this “challenge”, but you can get a sense of whether a show is worth a second date, and this is definitely a show worth watching – especially if you are a Mars fan.
Nikita – The CW
Based on La Femme Nikita, “but remade for the 21st century” as so many new shows are, this show is a spy thriller, based upon the titular Nikita, a female ex-assassin who has gone rouge from “The Division”, with a dual plot based upon Alex, a new recruit at Division. This means we can see our agency of assassins from the outside (Nikita), and the inside (Alex), and I presume the show is going to become a complex mess of agents, double-agents and triple-agents which I'd look forward to being delighted by. Hopefully, this will be just as much fun as it was in Alias, and the spy missions will feel fresh and exciting, as it looks like they will be what the show rests on. The side characters have some nice sparky lines, with The Tech Geek and The Gruff Boss looking like fun, and here’s hoping that the show becomes something worth seeking out. Especially as Nikita herself, played by Maggie Q, looks like she’ll be great to watch.
But then again, remakes of old shows often fail to do the original justice, relying too much on the old name, and female led shows tyically have to work hard to match the viewing figures of shows led by guys. And this is not a show without flaws. The pilot episode felt rushed, trying to cram in all the characters without letting us get a feel for any of them, leaving them all clichéd and uninteresting. I cannot in all honesty tell you a single personality trait of any of them – and that is not a good sign. And it is going to have to try pretty hard to be even nearly as good as, or as fun as, Alias. And my spy needs are already more than met by Chuck, which doubles as being hilarious, so an out-and-out spy show will have to work extra hard to earn my loyalty.
I would not be in the least surprised if this burns itself out quickly, relying heavily on ridiculous missions and Nikita fanservice, and is gone by this time next year. Anyone even remember the Bionic Woman remake? But then again, this could be the beginnings of a fun show, once it settles into stride. I will feel I’ll give it a month or so to see how it settles, for I'm still hopeful.
Hellcats – The CW
There's this thing, the Bechdel Test, which is used as a sort of litmus test for female presence is movie and television. In order to pass, the film or show must include at least two women, and they must have at least one conversation about something other than men, or a man. When formed in 1985, this wasn’t some die-hard demand of femininist ultras, but just to draw attention to how many shows completely fail this test.
Hellcats passes with flying colours. The premise of this comedy-drama is that a snarky narcissistic female law student loses her scholarship, and the only way she can stay at University is by gaining a cheerleading scholarship. She passes try-outs, meets a new friend and new rival, and starts competitive cheerleading. Yes, it is laughably formulaic, but that may not be such a horrible thing.
So, as you have probably gathered, this is a show about cheerleading. To its credit, it decides to treat it as a serious sport, (which the most dangerous teen sport probably deserves,) and looks like training and winning competitions is going to be more of a focus than the teen-drama stuff. And it seems well made, with some actually funny jokes and some nice Whedon-esque dialogue. The characters all seem distinguishable, and interesting, which is better than *shudder* Glee managed.
I have no problem with this if it does become popular, and it probably deserves it. But it is a teen drama about cheerleading. So, yeh... If I was a fifteen year old girl, I would probably watch it. But I’m not, so...
Haven - SyFy
The American SyFy channel are making a real move to step up in the world, and make their own original programming – which is a move I truly hope works for them. Any network who are focused on producing quality genre shows get my support all the way. They are not new to the business, being the guys who produced the best years of Stargate, produced Battlestar Galactica, and who’ve since created Stargate Universe, Caprica, and Warehouse 13.
Their new show this summer is Haven, a supernatural series based on a Steven King novel. A female FBI agent with a mysterious past gets sent to investigate a routine case in the sleepy town of Haven, who starts to uncover townsfolk with supernatural abilities. The first episode is a fairly paint by numbers affair, with the town and the characters slowly introduced. The quick wit of the dialogue slips by, flowing mostly unnoticed, hinting that it might become something later on. The characters all make an appearance, but only give vague clues as to who they might become, and the plot of the show is still unclear to me. Is this a “buddy cops investigate the supernatural” show? Is it a “Person investigates their own parents and past” show? Is it a “supernatural conspiracy” show?
You see, I come back to that difficulty of reviewing any pilot episode, of how little time these shows are given to make an impression. Haven feels like it is dragging its heels slightly. After the pilot I should know who people are and what they are doing. The fact that I just don’t makes this a hard show to recommend.
Despite the pilot giving little sense of what this show is, I can say it’s very nicely made, and I was never bored. But it didn’t fill me with a need to watch the next episode either. It was convincing enough to let me give it a second chance next week, but not enough for me to give it a shout out. It may become something, I have a feeeling it might, and here’s hoping it will... but then again, it may not.