It usually seems like each one of the four main networks has its own flavor. FOX is kind of edgy. CBS programs almost exclusively for 60-years olds, etc. That doesn’t really seem to apply to ABC. They’ve had lots of success with a whole range of shows. Whether it’s Lost, or Desperate Housewives, or Once Upon A Time, it seems like this is the network that’s got a little something for everyone. And this year’s Fall lineup is much the same, with a wide enough selection that you’ll probably find something here you’ll like. Unless last year’s Charlie’s Angels remake left such a bad taste in your mouth that you’ve given up on the network for good. Which is totally possible.
Zero Hour is one part Indiana Jones, two parts DaVinci Code, a pinch of The Exorcist, and Doctor Greene from ER. We saw a ton of shows like this right after Lost became such a huge hit. And when I say a ton, I mean like a metric shitload. Networks could not wait for Fall to roll around so they could strap us into our Lay-Z-Boys, pour that gruel in our mouths and massage it down our throats. But the numbers have tapered off these past couple of years. How Zero Hour will do is anyone’s guess, although I have to say that I think the cards are stacked against it, regardless of how good it is (or isn’t). I think shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica have made us incredibly impatient when it comes to TV. There are very few shows whose mysteries we’re willing to wait months (or in some cases, years) to discover the answers to. With a show like Zero Hour, we probably wouldn’t be waiting a year or more between seasons, but if the show doesn’t grab us right at the start, we’re not going to stick with it. Plus, it’s also possible the show’s just bitten off more than it can reasonably chew. I mean, there’s an argument to be made that Lost did the same thing. But that show’s mysteries were built up and added to over years. Look at everything we’re being asked to keep track of in Zero Hour. And that’s just the first episode.
Red Widow is based on a crime drama out of Holland, which isn’t exactly Scandinavia, but is still another notch on the belt of European television’s conquest of America. So, what’s it about? Well, Radha Mitchell plays a woman whose husband is killed by the mob. To protect her family, she has to go to work for the people who murdered her husband. Doing what, exactly? Well, we don’t know. The trailer is kind of ambiguous. In any case, I find it’s always a smart move to be weary of shows on network television that involve the mafia or organized crime. Can you guys imagine how bad The Sopranos would have been if FOX had ever taken it to series? That’s not a world I would have wanted to live in. We’ll have to wait until next year to see how this one pans out.
Although I doubt Nashville is a show I’m going to be tuning in to week after week, I think it could turn out pretty good. Just like Lost and all the serialized dramas that came after it, there’s a big rush to capitalize off of Glee’s success, so I’m glad the people who are making these shows are finding other ways to do the music rather than just have their characters spontaneously burst into song. As for the people in it, I hate Hayden Panettiere, and I don’t know if my pure and undying love and devotion to Connie Britton is enough to overcome that. I guess I have a lot of pondering to do. Anyway, the music stuff looks interesting, but it’s going to be a delicate balancing act with Powers Boothe (the world’s most gravelly voice!) and the whole political angle. It even seemed like it was tacked on to the trailer, so I have no idea how the show’s going to handle it.
What is this, 1994? I expected to see ads for Malibu Country in between episodes of Home Improvement and Boy Meets World. Listen, I’ll be the first one to say that television is a wide, open space, and that there’s room for all sorts of shows out there. BUT… I firmly believe that there are some shows that we as a culture have just moved beyond. There’s a reason you don’t see many shows like Family Matters anymore. And while the multi-cam sitcom may be fighting on (look at CBS as Custer’s Last Stand), the tone, that “hey mom and dad, let’s sit down at the end of 30 minutes and discuss what we learned this week” schmaltz that was a mainstay of 90s television is all but dead.
But let’s not pretend that Malibu Country is a good show that’s just falling victim to a pessimistic audience. The show is truly horrible. The acting is bad. The writing is worse. Lily Tomlin (really, how did that happen?) looks like every scene is a struggle between getting through her lines or burning the place down. All I can say is keep calm and carry on. We’ll have to endure a few weeks of this before it’s canceled.
I’m an optimist as heart. I want network television to swing for the fences and tell big stories. It’s just that I’ve been burned so many times before that my natural inclination is to approach shows like Last Resort with the same caution a divorced 40-year old might approach that guy in the bar who seems really nice and wears an expensive watch, but I don’t know, probably reads fanfiction. I’m optimistic, but I’m cautious. I have to be. Last Resort is about the crew of a submarine that refuses to fire nuclear missiles on Pakistan, and after refusing is fired on by the US government. After barely escaping, the crew sets up shop on the fictional island of Sainte Marina — which kind of begs the question why they weren’t ordered to fire on a fictional Middle Eastern country — and declares itself a sovereign nation. So, pretty heavy stuff. My concern is that the network doesn’t really have the brass to make this as dark as it should be. But, it does star Andre Braugher, and that guy doesn’t just look at you, he looks in you, so the show just might be able to pull things off. This is probably the show I’m most excited about this Fall.
666 Park Avenue
Interesting bit of trivia about this show: In it, Terry O’Quinn is actually playing John Locke. He always plays John Locke. Bet you didn’t know that. Anyway, I guess it just wouldn’t be ABC if they didn’t throw into something with some supernatural/otherworldly angle into their Fall lineup. My biggest gripe about show’s like this is how long can it go on before people get sick of it? Do Robert Buckley and Mercedes Masohn just keep discovering freaky s**t about the building every week? Are they going to discover the building’s dark secret and we watch season after season as they try to escape? There’s a good story in here somewhere, just not sure it’s one that lasts six or seven seasons.
Stay tuned. Next up is FOX.
I have a feeling The River may be the Mitt Romney of television shows. It has all the makings of a great series, but like Romney, inching ever closer toward the Republican nomination while at the same time moving further away from being elected president, The River is telling better stories while completely wearing out its basic premise. What a great analogy.
I’m assuming the Magus will find Emmett within the next couple of weeks**, considering that its finding members of his crew strewn up and down the Amazon. This week they stumble upon a g-g-g-ghost ship, with none other than Lena’s father, Tobias Beecher — who’s found himself in another sort of prison hahahaha that’s not a joke — trapped onboard. This turns out to be really fortunate, as it comes at a time when Lena’s really feeling the loss of her dad. Russ (Lee Tergesen isn’t really playing Beecher) was Emmett’s cameraman on The Undiscovered Country, but whenever anyone ever talks about Emmett, or how desperate they are to find him, Russ for some reason gets lost in the shuffle. Lena’s taken to long bouts of sitting up deck and playing her accordion to deal with the pain.
(**And the next few weeks may be the only chance the show’s got, considering its ratings.)
Lena and the rest of the crew find Russ aboard the Exodus, a ship appearing out of the fog and bringing with it much needed spare parts. Spare parts to get the Magus’ engine working again, after being run aground by another ship, on this unusually high-trafficked stretch of the river. The crew of the Exodus seem very friendly. And in return for their generosity, Tess and the others invite them to dinner, which the Exodus crew are very eager to take them up on. But while they’re eating, Security Chief Kurt spots two of the crew talking about getting everyone over to their ship and all manners of related skulduggery. And when Kurt pulls the Exodus captain aside and tells him he and friends best make their way back to their ship DOUBLE TIME QUICK, he turns into a monster or something and transports him to the other ship. I think. So their all ghosts, doomed to forever sail the Amazon, until they’re able to find some poor souls to replace them. The reasons for all of this are never really gone into. Which is both a little frustrating and a little refreshing. Frustrating because we’re just asked to accept it. Refreshing because, since they’re never explained, we don’t have to sit through Jahel and those dead eyes of hers explaining some obscure myth or legend. So you give a little, you get a little.
By the time Kurt shows up on the ship, Lena’s already there, having gone over earlier with Jonas after the two of them see a shadowy figure watching the two of them from one of the other ship’s belowdecks portholes. That shadowy figure turns out to be Lena’s dad, and the two of them spend a bit of time hugging and tearing up, and also not realizing the gravity of their situation. At this point in time, Lena doesn’t know that her dad’s dead, DOOMED TO FOREVER SAIL THE AMAZON. But still, she finds him looking a little roughed up, stuck in the hold of this ship, and I’m not seeing a red flags being waved. But once they see Kurt, they realize something’s not right, and try breaking out of the ship’s hold. This is where the episode begins to wear a little thin.
One of the Exodus crew tells Tess that they’ve got an accurate map of this section of the river, and why don’t they pop on over to the other ship, just for a few minutes, to get it. Well, they do, and Tess ends up the third the newest member of the Exodus’ CREW OF THE DAMNED. Lincoln and Snape realize that something’s amiss and mount a rescue mission. Now, this entire time, A.J. is running around the ship, following them or walking right in front of them, in all his gear, with that damn camera in their face. I understand the show has painted him as that guy whose attitude is, “Who cares? I got the shot.” But, really? Everyone’s packing heat, getting ready to go to this other ship, ready to KILL PEOPLE, and he’s running around with his camera? Yes, these people are making a TV show. And if there’s one thing reality television has taught us, it’s that networks will film all sorts of human suffering and repackage it as entertainment. But there’s got to come a point where these people are facing such weird — not to mention life-threatening — stuff, and they’ll put the cameras down and say, “Let’s just focus on getting through this without getting killed.” Especially when the crew’s split up, and it’s completely possible half of them are dead. But then again, Toddlers & Tiaras has been on the air for five seasons, so what the hell do I know?
There are a lot of parallels between The River and Lost. Forget the fact that both shows share Oahu as a filming location. After you hear everyone on board the Magus — sorry, just Jahel — talk about ancient tribes living in the jungle and the source of all magic — aptly referred to as “the source” — you begin to think you’ve heard all this before. But forget all that for a second. I think that if you put the mystery aside, at its core The River has a lot more in common with Battlestar Galactica. Why, you ask? Well, you’ve got a small group of people cut off from the rest of society. The deeper into the jungle they go, the weirder the stuff popping out at them becomes. Their situation becomes desperate, and cracks in their morality begin to appear.
Overall, I thought “A Better Man” was much better than last week’s “Los Ciegnos,” although it highlighted a number of problems the series is still suffering from. One of those is Jahel. The show’s use of her was the clumsiest it’s ever been, as we watched her attempt to explain the tribe-of-the-week the crew had run afoul of by jumping in Lincoln’s face, out of the shadows with a Tarot deck. Lincoln’s response seemed to be, “The hell?” and wasn’t much unlike our own. It’s awkward and always feels like it’s been shoehorned into the scene, but her “Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! Pick me!” attitude wouldn’t be so hard to stomach if she could find it within herself to talk about something other than magic. Although this week wasn’t as bad, characterization is one of the problems the show generally suffers from. But just when I think the characters are beginning to move beyond the boxes the show stuffed them in in the pilot, they go out and do something like take their guitars and accordions out and start singing songs, because what the hell?
But there was one thing I really liked about this week’s episode, and think the show could be so much better if it expounded on these themes a little more. Introducing Jonas — one of Emmet Cole’s cameramen who’s gettin’ his Peabody — into the mix I thought was a good idea, and not because he came along at just the right time, when, as Tess says, the crew needs a win (it turns out he can’t remember anything so it’s a moot point anyway). But because the crew almost immediately recognized what a threat he was to the rest of them and decided to pitch him overboard. I thought it was interesting to see the crew get the eff real, in a kind of show in which characters choose some of the worst times to make moral stands. Everyone turning their back on Jonas felt right. And he came off as kind of a douchebag, so, you know…
Still, even this side of things proved problematic. I’m not sure there was a single person out there who wasn’t rolling their eyes when they saw that Jonas had captured the dying tribesman’s soul inside his cellphone. Seriously? And once Jonas saw that everyone on board the Magus had turned against him, he was pretty quick to throw himself on his sword and wrap that noose back around his neck. And this was five minutes after begging everyone not to make him go back out there. So, the show is still trying to figure out exactly how real people act. It’s getting some of the scary stuff down — the birds and the roaches this week were nice touches — but it’s only scratching the surface on how these people would react to it all.
Wellll, this week’s episode was not so great. Which is kind of surprising, after the pilot showed us that The River was capable of some pretty cool stuff. And “Los Ciegnos” had some cool stuff in it, it’s just that the show doesn’t know how to present it. Mainly because at this point it’s still populated with Post-it notes with things like “hot female lead” and “hardass” written on them instead of actual characters.
And while I can deal with “hot female lead,” a few of the others kind of have me rolling my eyes. The show’s biggest repeat offender has to be Jahel, who’s comes off as the answer to the unasked question, rattling off the supernatural significance behind every twig or bug the crew steps on. What a tortured effing existence that girl must live, with those dead eyes of hers. I’ll be happy just to hear her talk about something other than magic. But judging from the show’s ratings, it’s entirely possible it will have been canceled before then.
Coming in behind Jahel is Kurt Brynildson, who handles security on the boat. You may know him as the guy with the guns who’s always glaring at everyone, who’s obviously up to no good with that sat phone he keeps stashed in his bag. If there’s a bigger mystery to what this guy is doing on the expedition, then the show should drop hints about it. I just wish he was able to do it and not come across as so one-dimensional. And if that’s as complex as some of the characters are going to be, I wish the show would give it’s subject matter due deference. This week’s episode had the gang stumbling onto land claimed (Owned? I don’t know.) by a tribe of natives called the Morcegos, or the Guardians of the Forest, while searching for Emmet. They wake up one morning to find that their camp has been visited in the night, with the tribesmen having left small altars of stones in the night. And very mysteriously, the crew begin losing their sight.
Eventually the Morcegos make their way to the Magus, pounding on the doors and windows while the blind crew cowers inside. Lena, Kurt, and A.J., the only ones unafflicted, take off into the jungle to hunt down the plant that will reverse the blindness. And this is where the episode most noticeably stumbles. Most characters in shows like these are supposed to grow, hopefully becoming better people than they were when we first met them. We learn about who they are, and then watch them as they confront and overcome their fears. So when we learn in the beginning of the episode that A.J. was a miner before becoming a cameraman, and that he had once been trapped inside a mine that had collapsed, a giant neon sign floating above him began flashing: PAY ATTENTION. And it comes as no surprise when we see him have shimmy his way underground when he finds the tree they’re looking for, after leaving Lena and Kurt for dead of course. Yes, A.J. should make the right choice, jump down that hole and get the magic plant that will give everyone their sight back. It’s just that that journey should last more than 20 minutes. But then again, I’m an English major. So what the hell do I know?
We see similar problems on the Magus, with producer Clark running out, putting himself in between the Morcegos and everyone else like a human shield. This is the guy who, just last week, was smirking to himself, rubbing his hands in anticipation as he watched that look of uncertainty wash over Lincoln’s face when he heard his father might still be alive. Sure, the revelation (it wasn’t a revelation) that he and Tess used to have something going on the side makes things a little more believable. But only a little.
The biggest problem with all of this — race-to-the-finish character development — was that the episode took its scariest element, the Morcegos, and relegated them to a few fleeting glimpses at the edges of the cameras that ship is strung up with, instead focusing on the House-style mystery of everyone going blind. And we all know the House-style mystery is really no mystery at all. There’s always some magic plant or whatever. Hopefully, going forward, the show won’t always resort to taking the easy way out. I think there’s an opportunity for a really good uber-arc about what the ultimate fate of these people is. I noticed that in the very beginning of the episode, after introducing the premise and the search for Dr. Cole, we see the words, “This is the footage they left behind…” implying that these people, too, go missing. That story is going to be a lot more interesting than those tree roots.
I enjoyed The River — ABC’s new horror/found footage/thriller/docudrama from Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli — almost in spite of myself. I think a big part of that was that I wasn’t watching it in a theater filled with idiot 13-year olds, laughing, throwing popcorn and Twittering each other. Another part of it was that, for all its problems — and The River’s got its share — the show just works.
This is kind of ironic for a few reasons. But before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning. In the distant past. 2004, when ABC premiered Lost. For all the joy that show brought into our lives, its success kind of turned into the bane of our existence. Serialized mysteries — in the vain of Twin Peaks — became the hot new thing, and we, the unlucky viewer, drew the short straw at the bukkake party as networks through show after show right in our face. Well, as it turned out, that Lost magic was a hard thing to recreate, and how many of those other shows to we even remember the names of?
The reasons for this are many. But two big ones are a focus on the show’s central mystery over its characters, or a premise that really doesn’t lend itself to a show that’s going to last six or seven seasons. And now we have The River, which is attempting to cash in on the whole serialized thing as well as the found footage craze, which Oren Peli brought back from the brink in 2007 with Paranormal Activity. The show follows Dr. Emmet Cole, who along with his wife Tess and son Lincoln starred for 22 years as the host of a Discovery Channel-style nature documentary show called The Undiscovered Country. While sailing the Amazon River, Cole and his ship go missing, and after six months of searching he’s given up for dead. That’s the end of the story, until the beacon on Cole’s ship goes off, and Tess tries mounting a rescue expedition. Cole’s network agrees to foot the bill, under one condition: Lincoln has to go along and the network gets complete access to the both of them, filming the entire thing for a new show. Cool, huh? Well, potentially.
In tonight’s pilot, there’s (understandably) a lot of setup for a show lasting six or seven years. And even though it’s kind of necessary, it also kind of works against it. Since there’s so little time to get into any sort of character-building, everyone stays inside their stereotype. Tess, confronted with the possibility that her husband is still alive, almost drags Lincoln with her to South America. Lincoln, of course, thinks the whole thing’s a bad idea and wants to put the whole ordeal behind him. The others we meet offer little else. The producer and his cameraman BFF are concerned only with… you guessed it,
Frank Stallone producing the show and “getting the shot.” We’re also introduced to Lena Landry (played by Eloise Mumford) — whose father was with Cole and also went missing on that fateful voyage — because, you know, sexual tension.
Once everyone gets on the river and finds Cole’s ship, they find a stockpile of tapes showing Cole (who is never not being filmed I guess) getting into all sorts of voodoo witchcraft. Walking on water, breaking bread with shaman witch doctors and running from evil spirits killing his crew. Tess, Lincoln, et al vow to go through every one of them and follow every last clue until they’ve found Cole. I have a feeling they’re only gonna have time for about one a week.
So, why, despite all this, do I think the show may still have a shot? Well, it’s still kind of hard to nail down. The Amazon River is a great setting for a show like this, and the subject matter — the magic and voodoo craziness of South America — does feel original. And in tonight’s second episode, we get a feel for what the actual series is going to be like. It’s an approach that lends itself well to the found footage format, as long as you’re willing to believe that everything and everyone on that boat are mic’d and have cameras on them at all times. It is what it is. I’m hoping that like all the faux-documentaries out there (The Office, Modern Family), it’ll eventually fade into the background. For now though, it’s a good way to get in a few scares, so there’s a little give and take.
The show’s still got some work to do. But there’s something there that could turn out to be pretty good. Whether or not people will stick around and wait for that to develop is another question. For all its success, I think Lost kind of screwed things up for shows like it that came later. People don’t have the patience for storylines that take years to play out they way they did for Lost and other shows (really only Battlestar Galactica). After about 40 minutes my wife bailed out. So The River could turn out to be just another floating carcass, banging up against Lost’s hull. Or it could be a hit. In any case, I imagine we’ll have a moderate amount of fun finding out which it’ll be.
CBS is the sausage factory. FOX takes chances. NBC tries hard. ABC is the dutiful wife. No matter what, you can always come home safe in the knowledge that dinner’s going to be on the table, and that there will be a batch of cookies in the oven. Because you work hard, and ABC thinks you deserve it. You always know what you’re going to get. Some of the shows may not be great, or even pretty damn annoying. But we’re mostly fed a steady diet of Modern Family, Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, with the promise of that occasional Lost that keeps us coming back for more. And for the most part, it looks like we’ll be getting more of the same this year. Pleasant, unoffensive, satisfying.
Pan Am really didn’t waste any time explaining its premise. “I’ll become a Pan Am stewardess!” Margot Robbie exclaims. Well guess what? You’ve actually got something pretty interesting there. You have a group of women, in the 60s, doing a job that was considerably more glamorous then than it is now, traveling all over the world. I bet you could do a lot with that. Plus, you’ve got Christina Ricci. And even though I swear her forehead’s growing inches every year like the mighty redwood, I did quite enjoy Casper, so I’m kind of obligated to– Oh wait, one of the girls is approached about being a spy. Bye Pan Am! It was fun watching you for five minutes!
Once Upon A Time
For those who keep up with such things, Once Upon A Time is going to seem a lot like Fables, the comic series that came thiiis close to having a show of its own, and at ABC, no less. That’s cool, right? Bringing fairy tale characters into the real world so the show’s got a dash of realism, but you get to keep all the supernatural, magic stuff because they’re fairy tales, right? Well, yeah. But this seems so damn boring. And having Bobby Draper there to explain everything and keep us all straight really isn’t doing anything for me. But at least we’ve got Ginnifer Goodwin. I guess a career spent playing the not-quite-as-attractive best friend and Margene on Big Love has prepared her to carry a show that ABC is hoping can fill that Lost-shaped hole in their schedule.
Last Man Standing
I have a bad feeling that Last Man Standing isn’t really a sitcom. It’s just a bunch of punchlines, all strung together by a very obvious laugh track. I have to say that Tim Allen returning to television after such a long time away is kind of a bold move. Even bolder is his decision to essentially play the same character he did on Home Improvement, with the same jokes. Because I’m so effing forward thinking, I really feel like the “sell by” date for shows — feel-good crap about how DIFFERENT men and women are from each other — like this passed about 10 years ago, but then again, The Middle is going into its third season, so what the hell do I know?
I actually think Suburgatory could be pretty good, although the narration works against it and it doesn’t need to be so cute about the “suburgatory” thing. Come on, Suburgatory, let us like you for you. You don’t have to try so hard. But those are issues are pretty minor. Overall, I think this may be the funniest pilot of the season. I’ll need to see a bit more so I can expound on that, because right now I find that if I’m not absolutely in love with something or I don’t hate it, I’m kind of at a loss for words.
The universe has more than its fair share of shows that people lovingly describe as “brain candy.” They know that while the show does posses some plot, there isn’t really any substance to speak of. So rather than try to defend this, they embrace it. “I just want to turn my brain off for an hour!” they proclaim. Some shows that might fit into this category would be Nikita or American Idol. And then, below them, we’ve got shows about baby beauty pageants, 16-years olds who don’t know they’re pregnant, Tyra Banks, and Charlie’s Angels. How redundant is this show? Don’t people know how much money Cinemax pours into women blowing things up? And they’re naked! Anyway, as soon as I heard Rachael Taylor say, “We’re not cops, we’re Angels,” I knew that nobody needed to watch this show, ever.
I wouldn’t exactly call The River’s trailer snazzy, or even exciting — despite the fact that I liked it — because it’s something we’ve seen so much of these past several years, mostly in movie theaters. The first season will consist of eight episodes. And for what it’s about, that seems like the perfect number. So what you’ve got when all is said and done is a really solid miniseries. And to be perfectly honest, that’s all this show will probably ever be. But, in case it does get renewed, where is it going to go? And that’s not even the show’s biggest problem. Serialized shows will find places to go. No, I think the bigger problem here is all the security camera footage we catch so much of. That’s not going to help anyone who thinks that the show’s just dragging them in circles.
Good Christian Belles
I’ll admit that this one looks a lot funnier than I thought it would. And I really can’t put my finger on why. Maybe because it’s from the writer of Steel Magnolias, which is a movie that I associate with my childhood the same way I do Count Chocula and Ninja Turtles. I’m interested in seeing how this show handles being set in Texas, because the only show so far to really do that has been Friday Night Lights. Well, maybe Dallas. A producer once told me that having a show on ABC would be a complete nightmare. And the fact that this show has gone from being called Good Christian Bitches, to Good Christian Belles, to GCB doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. But, if what we’re in for is mostly overgrown high school students sniping at each other and being snarky, maybe everything’s going to be alright after all.
Modern Family is a show I’ve purposely kept from reviewing this year, but I thought that after tonight’s episode, it’d be a good time to jump in and say a few things.
With only a handful of episodes left, Modern Family has had a perfectly adequate second season. It’s a great show and it makes me laugh — quite a bit, actually — just not in the same way I was laughing last year. It’s a show that knows what it does best, and is determined to do that, and just that, as well as it can. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be as zany as 30 Rock or as edgy as Eastbound and Down. But every now and then it does something to break out of its shell, and “The Musical Man” certainly did that. Just maybe not in the way it wanted to.
The episode’s structure felt a little more like a traditional sitcom, especially in that the C story, with Jay and his brother, Donnie (played by Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks), had very little time devoted to it. Instead, we spent most of the episode with Claire and Haley, driving around in their newly shrink-wrapped van. Because of the unfortunate layout of Phil’s new ad, one side of the van showed Haley with the caption, “Let me make all your dreams come true!” while the other side had Claire, exclaiming, “I can’t be satisfied!” It was genuinely funny. I LOLed, as I’m sure many of you did. But then the show took the joke and beat it right into the ground.
When Phil sees that he’s got 19 missed calls, of course he assumes that it’s because there are people out there looking for quality, affordable housing and NOT looking to satisfy his wife and daughter. Of course this leads to a hilariously misunderstood phone call, with the sexual double-entendres flying fast and furious.
While all this craziness is going on, Cam has taken over Manny and Luke’s school musical and, as he is wont to do, is trying to Streisand it all up. The thing was, by the time this side of the episode delivered its punchline, with the kids on the stage turning over their hilariously misspelled placards, the only thing going through my head was, “What dirty joke are we gonna get?” The rest of the episode had hit the same note so many times, that I didn’t expect it to go anywhere else in the endgame. It was all funny, but it was also unimaginative, and felt a little off for a show that’s taken so many traditional sitcom tropes and made them feel fresh again.
Overall, I liked the episode, and it was a slice of deep fried gold compared to Happy Endings and all the other mass-produced sitcom clones we’ve seen this season. But this year it’s seemed like there’s a line the show just doesn’t feel it needs to rise above. And I hate to say it, but that line dips into mediocrity a little too often. And with a show like Modern Family, such things ought not be.
Tonight, Grey’s Anatomy aired its musical episode, “Song Beneath the Song.” And after all the hype that comes with a musical episode — The actors SING! Can you believe it?! — I was FORCED to ask myself, “What’s the point?” No, seriously. What’s the point?
Now, I’m not against musical episodes. I think shows have found creative ways of doing them in the past and they’ll do the same in the future. But when an episode like this falls flat, it falls flat. Keep in mind that a musical episode is different from the, “WHO. WILL. DIE?” sweeps stuff we’re used to seeing, so there needs to be something there, something fun to reward the fans and hopefully something worthwhile that’ll bring in some new folks. It just needs to be good. Which can be hard to define but you know what it’s not. What supposedly set tonight’s episode apart was that the characters sing songs that, if it weren’t for the fact that it was a musical, we probably would have heard in the episode’s soundtrack. Except for that one song where everybody takes a break from Callie to have sex with each other.
And that was it. It was this meta thing where the characters are singing, but no one else realizes they’re singing. And you might be saying to yourself that that’s what all musicals do, right? WRONG. In your Greases and your Wickeds, the songs serve as an ersatz dialogue, through which the characters communicate with each other. In tonight’s episode, the writers found songs that conveyed feelings appropriate to the scene, but that was about as far as it went. Like I said before, these were songs we’d hear in the soundtrack anyway. The characters aren’t aware of what each other’s doing. There’s even one scene where the doctors (including my old girlfriend Kate Walsh) are arguing over how to best treat Callie, and we hear Hunt singing in the next room! For a moment, the show isn’t even paying attention to him. In the words of so many late-night infomercials, there’s got to be a better way!
In its sixth season we saw Scrubs do, “My Musical,” which is probably one of the best musical episodes ever made. In it, a woman who’s been admitted to Sacred Heart is diagnosed with an aneurysm in her brain that causes her to see everything as one giant musical playing out before her. It made sense in the reality of the show and was really funny. I mean, it gave us, “Guy Love.” What more do you want?
Fringe did its own musical episode late in its second season. “Brown Betty” had Walter telling Olivia’s niece, Ella, a story which was a sort of Valentine to Peter after the events of, “The Man from the Other Side.” That episode started out great. It was a noir-style story with a lot of pulp sci-fi elements that quickly went off the rails. It was the 50s, but there were still computers and cell phones. Olivia was a detective who had been hired to find Peter, who had stolen a glass heart that Walter invented and stuck it in his chest. You can forgive some of the weirdness. It is Fringe, after all. And the episode kind of gave us a cool look into the way Walter sees the world around him. But the musical aspect — which was something a few FOX shows were doing at the time to promote Glee — just seemed like it was shoehorned in at the last minute. The “songs” were all pretty short and sounded more like a couple of lines of dialogue, just set to song. A great premise that fell flat in its execution. I mean, Astrid singing, “I really need this job! Please, God, I need this job! I’ve got to get this job!” Not exactly Moulin Rouge.
So, what is the point? It’s all a gimmick to bring in viewers, of course. After Alley McBeal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scrubs, Fringe, musical episodes are a thing now, so I can’t fault the show for jumping on the bandwagon. It’s just that, for all its faults, Grey’s Anatomy is one of the more solid shows on TV right now. It does what it does very well. So it’s a little disappointing to see it screwing up the endgame.