Before the reviews start pouring in, here's a preview of how HitFix is going to preview the new TV season
It used to be that the TV criticism gig slowed down in the summer, with only repeats and baseball games getting in the way of trendspotting for the fall. Somehow, that didn't seem to be the case this summer. In addition to blue chip reality programming like "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Top Chef" (plus the ever-compulsively-watchable "Big Brother"), cable unleashed a scripted programming from "Burn Notice" to "True Blood" to "Make It or Break It" to "Mad Men." Even Saturday nights were busy this summer with "Harper's Island" and "Kings" and ABC's Summer Burn-Off Theatre.
So forgive me if I'm not exactly ready for Fall Preview coverage. Unfortunately, with the new season unofficially starting on Tuesday, Sept. 8 with the return of "90210" and the premiere of "Melrose Place 2.0" on The CW, I don't have much choice.
[More after the break...]
My formal Fall TV previewing got started yesterday, when I looked at the season's best and worst new shows with Maggie Furlong of AOL-TV and AOL-TV's DVR Divas.
I'll be reviewing all of the fall's new shows and many of the returning shows in the week to come, but for preview purposes, all the cool kids like to do editorial photo galleries.
But how to break them up?
By network? Well, ABC seems to have 50 new shows, while The CW only has three. That doesn't seem fair.
By night of the week? Too diffuse. Also? Poor Saturday.
By "Best" and "Worst"? Well, you can't mess with the classics.
The problem: Most of this fall's new shows fall squarely in the middle range. There are definitely four or five awful shows (Yes, "Brothers," I'm looking at you). And there are also four or five shows I'm looking forward to seeing more of (including ABC's "V," which doesn't premiere until Nov. 3, which still counts as fall in my book).
That puts most of the season's new shows right in the middle, which isn't surprising at all. There are bad shows that I think I'll watch anyway (The CW's "The Vampire Diaries" comes to mind) and acceptable shows that I wish were better (I just can't get excited about "The Good Wife"). I made "Best" and "Worst" galleries, which is pretty binary, but there's room for shades of grey. I may have put a new show in the "Best" gallery or the "Worst" gallery, but the difference between the worst of the best and the best of the worst is negligible.
That's especially true in the case of shows that were categorized based on a really lame 10 minute clip reel (ABC's "The Forgotten"), a gloomy pilot that's been partially recap and won't even air as the premiere (CBS' "Three Rivers") or a spinoff that didn't look interesting in its backdoor pilot but may be better when it stands alone ("NCIS: LA"). The rankings are based on what I've seen, but that doesn't mean that some good pilots won't lead to bad shows or that some bad pilots won't lead to good shows.
Heck, HBO's "Bored to Death" (which I've included in one of the two galleries along with USA's "White Collar," just because they're both premiering in the fall) has a forgettable pilot, followed by two memorable and satisfying episodes, so I've had more to evaluate. Then again, having more episodes to evaluate didn't help "Brothers."
Enough preamble, though...
Stay tuned on Sunday (or maybe Monday) of the season's Best New Shows... And the reviewing will also start on Monday.
Nothing ever ends well for Nancy Botwin and company, but what went wrong on Monday?
I have a really, really, really stupid question regarding "Weeds": Where has the majority of this season taken place? Have we been in random corners of Mexico? Ren-Mar? Some new SoCal beach community? Cleveland? Have all of the characters been in roughly the same place for most of the time or have they been separated completely, only occasionally coming together by accident?
"Weeds," a show once so confident in both its voice and its sense of place, has been geographically and totally adrift for two seasons now. As diffuse as Season Four was, it was positively single-minded compared to the schizophrenic fifth season that scattered strong, dark comedy in amongst episodes that cheated time and character motivation with near-alienating abandon. I enjoyed broad swaths of the season, but only after I realized that the episode-to-episode carousel of Nancy Botwin's affections for Mayor Esteban was irrelevant.
Season Five of "Weeds" concluded on Monday (Aug. 31) with an act of violence that was played for shock-value, but could hardly have been more predictable. For attentive "Weeds" viewers, the finale was like a one-third-completed game of "Clue": We knew who was going to be involved, but the location and implement were left in doubt until the last minute.
[A discussion of the "Weeds" finale and a wrap-up of the season after the break... It's not a recap. But it will spoil everything, so watch the finale first, eh?]
'The Human Family Tree' teaches our TV blogger that his ancestors were proto-farmers
The special, narrated by that master of interconnectivity Kevin Bacon, is meant to retrace the deepest roots of the human species, to show how we're all tied together through our genes. The DNA tests, conducted via mouth swab and taken immediately after a big lunch one day, was meant to show that my mother was a cupcake and my father was a turkey sandwich.
Fortunately, leftover food particles seem not to have compromised the sample from my inner cheek, at least not as much as my inability to retain the e-mail with the necessary login information to find the results of my test.
[Said results after the break... Or just watch "The Human Family Tree" tonight... I won't be in it, but I'll be watching to try making sense of things...]
'Top Chef' heads to Sin City with the show's tattooiest, piercingest cast of cooks to date
I was initially a bit resistant to "Top Chef Masters," but it has become an acceptable placeholder for Bravo in recent weeks. Host Kelly Choi hasn't made me stop missing Padma & Tom, while for a food critic, Judge James Oseland seems mighty confused by a lot of culinary exploration. It took a little while to realize that, Ludo Lefebvre aside, "Top Chef Masters" wasn't about gawking at spectacular flameouts, but was actually a celebration of the confident genius of titans like Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller.
But enough with the placebos!
"Top Chef" returns on Wednesday (July 19) night, with Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio, plus a new crop of cheftestants heading to Sin City.
The last season of "Top Chef," set in New York, ended back in February. Is "Top Chef Las Vegas" worth the wait?
[Review after the break...]
Emmy producers weren't wrong to want to shake things up, but they handled things incorrectly
Millions of Emmy viewers will never know how close they came to something that they wouldn't have noticed in the first place.
The TV Academy announced on Tuesday contrary to previous plans, all 28 Emmy Awards will be presented live during the September telecast. The previous plan had been time-shift (not quite pre-taping, but close) eight categories during the telecast to free time. While those eight categories were spread over a number of disciplines, the Writers Guild of America took particular umbrage at losing telecast time for TV's scribes, raising a stink that carried over into last week's Television Critics Association press tour panel with producer Don Mischer and the Emmy team.
Perhaps after seeing that this was a story that wasn't going to go away (or that critics and showrunners weren't going to allow to go away), the TV Academy backed down and the Emmys will go back to business-as-usual, which means a return to their regular position as TV's dullest major award show.
[More after the break...]
Series creator Victor Fresco discusses his ABC workplace comedy and its Tuesday season finale
1) The season's best new comedy has been airing new episodes this summer. Occasionally. Without promotion. Often changing at the last minute. Occasionally confusing your DVR, or at least my DVR.
2) Tuesday (Aug. 11) marks the first season finale, which could truthfully be called the second first season finale, since ABC aired what it was previously calling the "Better Off Ted" finale back in the spring, though at the time it appeared that it could very plausibly be a series finale as well.
3) ABC is airing two episodes on Tuesday night and the second, the actual finale, features guest star Rachelle Lefevre. Wait. Rachelle Lefevre? The "Twilight" star? The recently recast "Twilight" star? The beloved "Twilight" star whose recasting launched a thousand online petitions? Don't you think this is something ABC could have used as a publicity hook? Apparently not. ABC's press site has several pictures from the finale, none featuring Lefevre.
Asked about the oddball summer run of "Better Off Ted" during Saturday's Television Critics Association press tour session, ABC President Stephen McPherson hemmed and hawed a little bit.
"You know, summer was tough in general. We felt like where we wanted to go creatively with the show, we really wanted to get that start," McPherson said. "And we’ve tabled a couple episodes and feel like we’re in really good shape there. So I don’t know. Hindsight is 20/20. We would have definitely liked a better performance, but I do think we’re going to put on really good shows in the fall or, you know, after the 'Dancing' run. And I think that’s going to speak — that’s going to be what is going to determine whether the show works or not."
Because McPherson was so non-commital, Sepinwall and I caught up with "Better Off Ted" creator Victor Fresco at the ABC party.
Some choice quotes after the break...
The talents behind 'The Shield,' 'Damages,' 'Rescue Me' and 'Southland' take NBC to task
Expect questions about 'Lost,' 'Grey's Anatomy' and Ben Silverman
1:57 p.m. Has ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson been practicing his Ben Silverman kiss-off all week? Does he have a funny Paula Abdul joke? And is he ready to say good-bye to "According to Jim" forever? Follow our live-blog of McPherson's Saturday (August 8) Television Critics Association press tour panel... After the break...
Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly discuss Paula Abdul, Paula Abdul, Paula Abdul and more
The critics have spent a long day waiting for Jay Leno... Will he win us over?
4:52 p.m. PT The panel for "Mercy" ends, appropriately, with a question for James Tupper, about "Men in Trees." That was not a good buzz-building panel for NBC.
4:55 p.m. Pages are passing out cookies shaped like race cars. Because Jay Leno loves race cars. Or because the critics haven't been fed in over three hours, which is pretty extreme. Of the cookie, my former editor Brill Bundy observes, "It's almond-y. It always makes me feel like I'm eating arsenic."
4:58 p.m. They're clearing the stage for Jay... Recap will come after the break.