Gotham: The Pilot

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GOTHAM: 1.01 “The Pilot”

It’s premiere time! And believe it or not, I’ve actually found a show that I’m interested in and want to watch again. That show? FOX’s Gotham.

It’s actually no surprise that I was impressed with this pilot. The promos alone revealed great quality, and I’m a huge fan of Ben McKenzie (remember Southland? Impressed then, impressed now).

McKenzie shined again in this show, but he was supported by a great cast of characters, both familiar and new from the Batman mythology. While I hesitated, worried that I would only see Donal Logue as Sean Finnerty from Grounded for Life instead of Harvey Bullock (clearly, I’m behind on some of his more recent roles, but Grounded is so vastly different from Gotham that it made an impression), I was pleased to see that within minutes I was seeing a brand-new face and character.

I also quickly found myself drawn in my Fish and her gang of thugs, as well as the rest of the building story arc. I was skeptical that we’d really find out the Wayne killer in the first episode — in fact, if we did, I’d be disappointed. And I must say that the scene where the Waynes were slain was moving and effective, a truly tragic and attention-grabbing beginning for the series.

That being said, I do wonder where we go from here. Can we really continue to have Bruce and Alfred appear in every episode? We’ve introduced such future characters of Ivy, the Riddler, and Catwoman, but what do you do with them beyond that? When the series was first introduced, though, I wondered the same thing. How do you make something as iconic as Gotham work without just making it another procedural? Are we just waiting for villains to become villains? Are we just waiting for Bruce to become Batman?

I hope not. And honestly, with this beginning, I find myself more enthralled with the city itself than those side characters and future villains. Sure, I’m interested to see how Edward Nygma, in particular, turns from a helpful friend of the fuzz to a enigmatic Riddler, but that can take time. In fact, I must say that Gotham the city became its own character with its fully developed city scapes, buildings, and sets, and I want to see that develop around the show (and Gordon within it) more than anything else.

My main complaint? The Penguin. Not only was his iconic walk not established before the “penguin” nickname was referenced, but I would have much preferred a few episodes before he became a true villain. Slitting a throat for a sandwich at the end suddenly became out of character. We hadn’t yet seen him as a threat, merely a wannabe weasel, so I would’ve wanted to see that edge develop a little more slowly, seen him as a victim of his life of crime gone wrong, seen him react to the fact that he lost everything as he tried to climb the ranks to overthrow Fish.

Yes, a slower development of such a psychological mastermind would’ve had a better treatment. But honestly, there’s a lot more for the Penguin to do and many more episodes to go. Pilots always have some sort of weakness. And there was just too much good going for it for me to really get bogged down by one character.

After all, with the weight of Batman on its shoulders, I’m impressed its standing so tall already. Let’s hope it can handle the pressure.

Fringe Renewed for Fifth and Final Season!

Ok, so I was going to leave it to Twitter to talk about the FANTASTIC NEWS, but I just can’t contain myself. Fringe, FOX’s ever bubble show, has been renewed for a fifth season. The season will be its last — a 13-episode order — but it will push the show to its 100th episode. Quite a milestone for the precarious paranormal bunch.

I could not be more thrilled with the news. I’ve been and off-and-on watcher (yes, shame on me), but in recent seasons, I’ve really been doing my best to keep up with the show. And even when I wander away, I still get pulled back in with the story arc and, let’s face it, Joshua Jackson on a weekly basis.

And I’m not the only one. Remember when Fringe won TV Madness?

I’m so excited about this happy news! And what’s more? FOX already has a promo. Check it out.

Yes. I just got goosebumps.

Thoughts on the Terra Nova Pilot

TERRA NOVA: 1.1 “Genesis Part 1”

Terra Nova, Fox’s long delayed, star-crossed series finally debuted last night with a 2-hour pilot. I watched it. It was… okay? Two hours is a lot of time to invest into a brand new scripted TV drama, especially one with a sci-fi bent. I felt my attention going in an out throughout the entire episode. The idea of starting society over in some kind of primeval wilderness is a really interesting one and it could lead to all sorts of interesting ancillary ideas and plot lines. For example, what sort of government runs the Terra Nova settlement? Is it essentially a dictatorship, run solely by the commander? What would happen if people started protesting this arrangement? It doesn’t seem like there is a lot of job mobility in this society either; people seem to be assigned to a job based on their skills. What if this process is flawed, and puts people where they don’t belong? What happens when people want to pursue a career outside of the path they’ve been assigned? How would gender relations change in a society in which population growth is suddenly a positive thing, rather than a detriment? What would motivate a group to separate from the Terra Nova colony and maintain its independence? I’m sure the show is going to try to answer these questions through the Sixers, but the entire first episode made me doubt that these answers would be at all elegant, interesting, or unique. The oh-so-tired “rebellious teenager getting lost and stirring up trouble” plot was so played out that I could barely stand to watch it; the over-expository conversation by the Sixers about the mysterious drawings on the rocks, a conversation that repeatedly reminded the viewers how important these symbols are and how they will decide who controls the past and the future, drained any fun sense of mystery out of them.

What I think bothers me the most about this show is that it seems too focused on the spectacle. There’s too much focus on the dinosaurs, and too many suggestions that the conflict between the Sixers and the Terra Novans is somehow connected to the dystopian future we saw in the first twenty minutes. I don’t care about that future. Terra Nova is latin for New World: let this be a new world! Let humanity struggle to define itself and its values against the backdrop of a savage environment. Show us people creating a new society; don’t complicate things with silly conspiracy theories about why people want to control Terra Nova and how it could impact the future. Cut us off from that smog-choked world; sure, it can live on in peoples thoughts and influence how they approach their new environment, but don’t let it directly affect the “New World.” Instead, let the colonists fight amongst themselves and the environment to define a new meaning of civilization. I fear, though, that much like the rebellious teenager plot, the series will tackle these ideas only in the most superficial and tired manner. I will watch again, if only to see what might change, but I don’t feel too confident about it.

Lone Star: Blues in Texas

JC on one of FOX’s new offerings

LONE STAR: 1.01 “Pilot”

Isn’t this time of year always fun? So many fresh faced new shows, so much hope. Lone Star (FOX, Monday 9PM) is one of those shows; it got some good pre-release buzz, so I was interested in checking it out.

Basic premise: Bob is a con-man working in tandem with his con-man father, and he has two lives. In life #1, he’s married, with a huge house, and works for his father-in-law’s Texas energy/oil company in the city (Houston or Dallas, I don’t remember). In life #2, he’s got a small house and a beautiful girlfriend in the suburbs. Bob wants to go legit, but he’s in love with both women, so he’s going to try to prop up both identities at the same time.

I’ll admit, the first half of the episode dragged a bit for me, though it picked up in the second half. Jon Voight was good and intimidating as Bob’s father; the rest of the cast did a nice job. James Wolk is, and I’m not afraid to admit this, very good looking and absurdly charismatic in the role. He is utterly believable as a con man. I sometimes felt uncomfortable at the lies he was weaving, and how they would affect the people around him, yet he still came off as believable and sympathetic despite his deception. The show had some good music, and I really liked its visual style.

Overall, it was a pretty good pilot. I’d be interested to see where it goes. Unfortunately, it might not go very far. Despite all the early hype, the show’s ratings tanked, according to Alan Sepinwall and we all know how little patience FOX has with slow starting shows. I’ll check it out again next week.

Masterchef: The Miniseries

Another marathon Masterchef, and JC’s here to share a few thoughts.

MASTER CHEF: 1.05 + 1.06

I think I’ve figured out the structure of this show. First, a mystery box challenge. The three best looking (but why not best tasting? I don’t know) dishes are judged. The winner here either gets to pick some kind of special ingredient (or specific dish in this episode’s case) that everyone will cook with in the next challenge. Everyone’s result is taste-tested, and someone winds up going home. In the second half, there’s a team cooking challenge intended to serve a large number of people. Each member of the losing then has to identify (through taste, and then sight, so far) a number of different ingredients in a row. The person with the lowest total has to go home.

I’m having a hard time coming up with other things to say about this show because I’m finding it pretty boring. Here are a few points that have been bothering me:

  • I hate the back to back episode format so far. Not only does it seem like too much of a time committment in one night, but it also gives the appearance that Fox is burning off as many episodes as it can, as quickly as possible. Why should I care about the show if it might be a lost cause?
  • I’m sure some people appreciated the celebrity chef appearance of Cat Cora, but did everyone really have to try and copy her creation? Why couldn’t they create their own thing like last week? This touches on another problem with the show. In an average episode, the chefs only get two chances to display their unique creativity and styles: the mystery box challenge, and the follow-up ingredient challenge (The final challenge involves no cooking, while in the group challenge, everyone seems to be making a group meal instead of individual dishes within the group a la Top Chef). These two chances at creativity, actually, are more like one and a half. Since only three dishes are actually tasted by the judges in the first challenge, we have no idea what the other ones taste like, or if they’re any good. Last night’s episode, the chefs were only really given half a chance to be creative, since the second challenge was just a flat-out copy job.
  • I would really like the judges to give out some more substantial criticism. What was good or bad, why was it good or bad, and what was it missing?
  • The editing is eye-rollingly melodramatic. It seems like right before every major judgment, positive or negative, we’re treated to a five second silence, followed by an immediate commercial break. That works sometimes, but it’s being way overused here.

Top Chef is having a very weak season this year. Masterchef, though, is no substitute for it.

Masterchef: Eggs and Onions

JC here with a few thoughts on last night’s Masterchef.

MASTER CHEF: 1.03

I know last week’s review of Masterchef lacked a fair bit of enthusiasm, but that’s because the episode was basically the same as the first one. Not much was going on. Although there was some new ground covered in episode three, unfortunately I found it just as boring. The episode began with an onion cutting challenge. The contestants had to full two bowls, one full of diced onions and the other full of sliced ones. Onion dicing, particularly trying to get the pieces into a uniform size, is not as easy as it seems so it’s not surprising that some contestants cut their hands, and number of others were sent home almost immediately for poor cutting techniques.

Round Two required the contestants to cook a dish using one egg as the centerpiece. Only 14 people advanced to the next round. None of the dishes were particularly memorable, though that’s probably because they didn’t spend all that much time evaluating them. We’re still at the winnowing stage, so there are too many people and dishes to focus in on a few and get some really specific feedback from the judges. I guess that’s the real problem with early episodes of a show like this.

The worst part of last night’s episode has to be the contrived, overly dramatic deliveries of judgment. I know the episode was boring, and I know the judges were trying to inject some drama into the show, but dramatically declaring, “You should all take off your aprons…..<cut to commercial, then return>… and then tie them back on tighter because you’re moving on to the next round!!” was just so hokey that I found myself annoyed.

I still don’t know what kind of challenges everyone will be facing next, but I hope the show keeps cutting contestants down at a quick pace. Much like Top Chef, I fear this show won’t really start getting interesting until the total number of contestants has been cut down to 6 or 8.

Masterchef: More of the Same

JC here with a few thoughts on last night’s second episode of Masterchef.

MASTER CHEF: 1.02 “Auditions #2”

I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this second episode of Masterchef, as it was pretty much the same as the first. Granted, this time around we saw more people succeed. There were second chances (the woman who was sent home to get new ingredients and cook again, or the woman who was sent home only to be saved at the last minute when a judge changed his mind), human interest stories (the guy with three fingers, the mom who was incorrectly diagnosed with a terminal disease and who had two special needs kids), and overall, less brutal reality and more uplifting, feel-goodness.

The focus on more successful stories made the episode a bit less interesting than last weeks. Since we saw people succeeding more often, it kind of cheapened their success. Failures were mostly condensed into a short montage, leaving us without any extended gems like the “funeral potato” dish (oozing with butter, oil, and other fat) last week that  Ramsay and the other judges were so appalled and fascinated by.

One other thing… Because there were a lot of people moving on to the next round in this episode, there were also a lot of people whose fate came to rest on the uncertain opinion of one judge or another. Many borderline contestants practically begged the unsure judge to advance them rather than send them packing. I know this is supposed to show a contestant’s dedication and passion for their home cooking, but it came across as pitiful grovelling. It got pretty unseemly after a while, but I know there’s not much that can be done about it, since reality TV is at least partially about making people look like idiots and losers.

Nothing too special happened in this episode. They’ve winnowed down the crowd to 35 now, though, and it looks like next week is knife skills time. Judging by some of the previews, someone will lose a finger, or at least require some stitches.

Masterchef, the Culinary American Idol

JC here with a few thoughts on last night’s premiere of Masterchef.

MASTER CHEF: 1.01 “The Pilot”

I decided to watch the first episode of Masterchef last night. As you may have read on this site, I’m disillusioned with my former love Top Chef, which is currently mired in one of it’s weakest, least interesting seasons ever. While I really liked Gordon Ramsay’s other show, Kitchen Nightmares, I was never able to get interested in Hell’s Kitchen. Since Masterchef is focused on elevating amateur cooks, I thought it might have more of the flavor I enjoy from Kitchen Nightmares, namely Ramsay screaming at, yet eventually helping, hapless “average people.”

The first thing I noticed was the choice of announcers/narrators. I’m very glad Masterchef decided to go with a fairly normal, calm sounding female announcer. The announcer in Hell’s Kitchen was one of the dealbreakers for me; he always sounded like some kind of carnival barker or cheesy morning zoo radio DJ, so the lack of overstatement by the Masterchef announcer is welcome.

I wasn’t expecting the show to be as American Idol-ized as it was. It starts with 100 contestants, who one-by-one, must serve a dish to Ramsay and his two other judges. The judges will either praise the contestant and give them an apron signifying that they move on to the next round, or they’ll berate them and send them packing. It follows the Idol formula almost exactly. Ramsay’s obviously playing the part of Simon here, though he’s harsher on the failures (Simon can only insult you verbally, Gordon can actually vomit up your creation back onto a plate) he also seems more genuine than Simon when handing out his praise. I don’t remember the names of the two other judges, but the tall bald one is pretty harsh, while the shorter, heavier one fills out the role of the nicer, genial judge nicely. Unfortunately, there’s no one to fill the drug-addled role of Paula. Oh well.

The first epsiode was an hour long, and still didn’t clear through all the 100 starting contestants, so we’re in for more of the same next week. I’m not sure they really had to stretch it out this much. Despite what I think might be too much padding in the first episode, I’ll admit that I really did enjoy the show. The personal stories of the few successful contestants so far are very affecting, and it’s actually very cool to watch them overflow with happiness when Ramsay praises them. For an example, just look at the contestant (I think his name was Mike) who prepared an Asian style duck breast. It looked like his head was about to pop off from sheer ecstacy as he heard the glowing comments from all three judges, who were clearly impressed. You don’t find that kind of unrestrained joy with the professionals on Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen. Now, I’m sure Fox will eventually overmilk some of these personal stories (and in fact they were dangerously close to doing so with the story about the doctor and her mother’s cookbook) but so far they’re working, and I think I’ll keep watching.

More to come on this next week.

Why FOX’s “Previews” don’t work

A few weeks ago, I watched a fun new show: The Good Guys. Starring Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks, it’s fun, a little quirky, and even has a mustache. Honestly, I’ll watch anything with Bradley Whitford in it. Even those old movies when he’s always the jerk. But I like him.

Then a few weeks went by and I though, Hmm, when does The Good Guys air? Did I miss that? I saw a commercial: June. June? Are you kidding? I have to wait until June?

June came, and here we are, June 15. I have no idea when The Good Guys returned. I have no idea when it airs. How do I know it’s currently being aired? Well, Friday night I caught an episode that was new–well, new to me. It was a rerun. From when, I don’t know.

I’m going to make the large assumption that the show airs Mondays. Not because I was flipping channels. No, it’s because other TV blogs are covering it today. Guess what I was doing last night in primetime. Watching Lost and season three of The Guild–neither of which FOX is going to benefit from, let alone Whitford and Hanks.

FOX seems to be one of those few networks that does new show “Previews.” They show the pilot–or special presentation, whatever you want to call it–on a random night to get people interested. Then, they later air the show on its regular night and time.

I don’t know about you, but when I sit down to watch a TV show, I’m a creature of habit. If something’s aired on Tuesday at 9 pm, I’m going to assume that next week, it will probably air on Tuesday at 9 pm.  I don’t expect to wait a month before seeing the new episode. And when you plop a new show in the middle of the season finales of the current season, there’s a good chance that people are going to get a little too focused on the BIG EPISODES of their favorites and miss this special “preview” anyway. Why’s that a problem? Inconsistency, really. Sometimes FOX will air the “preview” again when it starts the official season, sometimes it won’t. I don’t like starting a new show feeling like I’ve already missed it.

But let’s not just look at The Good Guys. This preview strategy is what killed Drive. FOX did a Sunday night preview for Drive–a two-hour pilot. Then they showed the next episode the following night on Monday. The fourth (and final, I might add) episode? The following Monday night?

Again, creatures of habit. If the network just gave me two hours of a show on a Sunday night, I’d assume it’s going to air on Sunday. But tuning in the following week, nothing was on. On the other hand, knowing Monday was part of the game, I taped Monday’s episode. Ok, what if you just tuned in at the regular time? Mondays? You’ve missed two hours of action that’s actually needed to understand the series. What if you watched all three? Well, you’d either think it’s some sort of miniseries, where maybe another installment is on Tuesday, or you just assume to catch it next week. But when?

It’s true, this strategy worked for Glee, but I’d say Glee was a bit of an exception. First, it’s a distinctive new series. Name another series that habitually combines drama and music, and you’ll see what I mean. Ultimately, The Good Guys is a procedural and Drive was a mystery drama. They have their own features, but they blend into the background. With enough momentum, like Glee had, you can make it stand for a whole summer. And maybe that was another issue: You were sustained for the entire summer.

It wasn’t one night or a month. You knew this was a fall show. You weren’t guessing when you’d be seeing it again.

But mismashing the show on random night just for the hell of it and expecting people to figure out when it’s on based on a website and the occasional commercial (sorry, FOX, but I don’t watch American Idol so I don’t see your commercials for the two other series you have on deck) is just madness. It’s not successful. It’s way too close to the Scrubs treatment. And honestly, it’s killing your shows.

Now, I don’t know how The Good Guys is doing in ratings. Hopefully it has some upside, what with there being very few new shows out right now this summer, but I can’t say this is doing much for it. After all, when a TV blogger doesn’t know when to watch, I’d say there’s more of a problem with the strategy than with the audience.

*images from TheTVAddict.com and BuddyTV.com

Take a chance on ‘Fringe’

Contrary to popular belief about TV shows these days, it looks like networks might just be stepping out of their comfort zones and banking on the little guys.

This weekend, it was announced that FOX picked up the paranormal series Fringe for a third season. If I may say so myself, thank God. Not only do I get concerned with people like Joshua Jackson are out of work, but this show is one of the few creative shows left on air–and while, sure, it might have some X-File ancestors, it certainly has taken its own road to mysteries and story arcs.

I have to admit, I’ve been a bad Fringer, since I desperately need to catch up on this season. The Thursday time slot has really made it impossible to watch–as I’m sure many agree. In fact, that’s probably why the ratings went down so low and made this one a bubble show.

But now I know that any time invested in catchup will be worth it, knowing it’s back next season. Let’s just hope it gets back to a better night.

Another underdog keeping his doghouse? Community! Thank God for small favors. Community also got a pickup, and we’ve got this entertaining moment to take from it. Basically, Dan Harmon taped his cast when he told them the news. Check out the video below and read the entire post here.

So looks like next year’s TV might not be a waste after all.