TV Eye: The Axe Drops
Why isn't the new fall TV season working?
There was disappointment when news broke last Friday that ABC had canceled My Generation, the new hourlong drama about twentysomethings living in Austin. Most of the local online chatter I saw was lamentation about the missed chance at working as an extra (My Generation was filmed in and around Austin) and an amusing case made for why the show didn't work – because it didn't follow a formula where something sad is followed by something happy.
There are casualties in every fall TV season, but this season seems particularly interesting to comment on beyond the usual complaint about mediocrity rising to the top. It seems that there's a disconnect between what is being put out on broadcast TV (emphasis on broadcast) and the general zeitgeist at large. The nation, as a whole, is suffering. We face a poor economy, high unemployment, the aftereffects of the Wall Street debacle, the BP oil spill in the Gulf, disenchantment with a formerly enchanting president, the ever-rising body count of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (though the latter, we're told, has ended), and televised news sources that either don't have the time to make any sense of it all (broadcast) or spend a great deal of their 24-hour cycles trading in half-truths or lies (cable). It's all very demoralizing. So where do viewers go when they want a break from it all? The tried and true escapist comedies, unchallenging dramas focusing on friendship and family, and – for the truly brain-dead – reality TV.
What will "fail" on broadcast TV this season? Given the general mood, I predict anything that features the incredibly rich or privileged or self-centered. That's part of the reason Lone Star failed. It had a unique premise and a strong cast; its downfall was its marketing. Pitching it as Dallas-lite was not a good ploy. Nowadays, nobody wants to see a J.R. Ewing get away with his dirty little deeds. Lone Star's Bob Allen (James Wolk) was no J.R., but alas, few viewers bothered to tune in long enough to find that out.
The truly appealing new hourlongs of the fall broadcast season are workingman dramas Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC), starring Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos, Life on Mars), and Blue Bloods (CBS), starring Tom Selleck. The former is set in Detroit, a U.S. city fighting to reinvent itself. Imperioli's Detective Louis Fitch carries the weight of some past trauma on his shoulders while trying to clean up a city he refuses to give up on. In Blue Bloods, we have three generations of a family of cops with a secret that points to corruption. Whether the corruption comes from within or without is the question that Jamie (Will Estes), the Reagan family's newest member of the New York City police force, will discover the answer to as he decides where his allegiance lies: with family or with justice.
Comedies have been mostly careful this TV season, with the exception of Fox's Running Wilde, starring Will Arnett. In another season, it might have hit bigger. But in this climate, there's something off-putting about a man who wants for nothing and whose capacity for self-reflection is nearly nonexistent. The other problem with this show is that it needs a better straight man, which is the same problem with $#*! My Dad Says. That show has a just okay straight man in Jonathan Sadowski (2009's Friday the 13th), and William Shatner could almost be funny if he weren't trying so hard. My prediction is that two Fox shows will rise to the top of the heap: the wackier The Good Guys – the misfit-cops show that premiered earlier this year as a midseason replacement – and Raising Hope (from My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia), which is about a young father raising a baby with the aid of his barely competent family. Again – the friendship-and-family platform.
This season's new dramas are definitely stronger than the comedies, but when it comes to escapism and a celebration of family and friendship – all the comforts necessary for hunkering in the bunker till it all gets better – the aforementioned fit the bill.
As always, stay tuned.
What Else Is On?
A joint venture of American Experience and Frontline, the six-part series God in America premieres next Monday, Oct. 11, on PBS. It's thoroughly researched, but the pacing and the mind-numbing flipping back and forth between talking heads and images makes this a tedious view. See my full review online at the Screens blog, Picture in Picture (austinchronicle.com/pip).
As always, stay tuned.
E-mail Belinda Acosta at email@example.com.