Our Genre TV Cup Runneth Over
I want to sit down and comment on how this 2014 fall TV season looks so far and the prospects I see for the upcoming season. As usual, we have lots of goodness to digest, and a few missteps to choke on.
The insurgence of genre TV shows (most significantly comic book series) is at an all-time high. With shows like ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘The Game of Thrones’ doing so well, everyone wants to get in on the (ratings) glory.
And I’m never one to complain about having lots of juicy genre shows to watch each week. But I think the market has become so saturated in what is effectively niche audience content I think we may see a potential backlash after this year. Many of these shows, some in their sophomore seasons are showing very low ratings. Truth is, genre shows are simply not for everyone:(
So I implore TV executives everywhere, continue to promote and make high-caliber series of all types but keep up the diversity. Too much of a good thing may have consequences that us diehard genre fans will not like. If even a third of these shows don’t survive the year what’s the likelihood they will be replaced in kind? And the last thing we need is more crappy sit-coms, “reality” shows, or prime time teen soap operas.
The first show on the ratings hit list is CW’s most excellent si-fi survival series ‘The 100′. More focused and meaner than ever, this shows ratings are circling the drain. Not sure the cause, perhaps poor marketing, over saturation, genre fatigue? Pretty (and horny!) teens stranded on a hostile planet in mortal combat with cannibal savages and oppressive, conspiratorial adults. What’s not to like? Now with ‘Justified’ alumni Raymond Barry on board as a creepy politician/leader. Watch this show, it deserves at least a completing Season Three.
Of course, one can’t not talk about post apocalyptic worlds and not mention ratings monolith ‘The Walking Dead’. This season seems more ferocious than ever. Rick and Co. are not content at just keeping safe. After the gloves off-season première, we see an unhinged group of bad-ass warriors prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure their continued survival. With the promise of more exploration and more action and gore, for the first time since perhaps Season Three, I’m looking forward to each new episode. Hopefully they can keep up the pace and tension.
CW’s ‘Arrow’, now in its third season, seems to be struggling a bit. As though they had a perfect story for TWO seasons and are now rushing to find enough material to continue. With even more DC comics baddies and allies showing up they run the risk of de-saturating “the core” and becoming just another failed experiment. Lets keep the series tightly wrapped around Oliver Queen and his homies and not end up buried behind angst, camp, and chaos.
‘Sleepy Hollow’ also seems a little lost. No less entertaining than last year, but the addition of extra cast members (including the wonderful John Noble) has kinda watered down the Mills/Crane dynamic. As the Demon invasion continues to boil, the monster of the week episodes get more serious and consequential. But I fear we’ll end up losing the momentum if we don’t spend as much time directly attacking the Horsemen instead of all these less substantial distractions. I want more machine-gun wielding Headless Horseman battles, dammit!
Oddly, ‘Person of Interest’ has gone kinda retro. Still high-caliber entertainment, but with a return to more or less “numbers of the week” stories. The whole BAD AI doing battle with the GOOD AI and our heroes thing from last season has been muted. If we don’t return to the high-stakes end all/be all tone set by the epic Season Three it risks losing ground and perhaps becoming a mere (albeit well written/performed) crime procedural.
‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ (let’s please shorten that title to maybe just ‘SHIELD’) has maintained the pace and tone of last season’s final act. Now off the leash, Agent Coulson and his “rogue” allies are tackling a defined Big-Bad, HYDRA, and are able to do everything, without regulative restrictions, to reach their goals of saving the world. With lots of Marvel comic support and adversaries just waiting in the wings. A meaner (no less leaner) ‘SHIELD’ that hopefully sustains us for another season or two.
I kinda jumped the ‘Grimm’ bandwagon in Season Two when Juliette spent the entire season trying to remember her fiancée Nick. Still entertained by the subversive monster of the week vibe and quirkiness. However, this season they’ve reverted to more frustrating plot contrivances by stripping Nick of all his powers (once again at the hand of the witch/bitch Adalind Schade) leaving it all in the hands of a angst ridden newly minted teenaged Grimm. Imagine a “Superman” series where he’s lost his powers and can now only provide support for Supergirl‘s efforts to save the world, instead. I’d even prefer a bewitched Nick the “evil” Grimm to this neutered crap.
“Carrie Mathison” is bat-sh*t crazy. Just watch her seduce a doe-eyed “child” in Season Four of ‘Homeland’ and start squirming. It seems, without the Brody drama, that Homeland’s show runners have resorted to more 24-ish melodrama to ramp up the stakes and make sure each of our heroes remain both essential and in mortal danger throughout. But, this season’s plot of chasing a would-be dead terrorist lacks any urgency. There’s appears to be no immediate threat, just wounded prides and more self-fulfilling prophecies of doom. If Carrie had just stayed home, and on her well needed medication, most of these problems would’ve never occurred. Oh well, Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin are just so damn fun to watch.
And ‘Castle’ offers us anther season of “will they or won’t they” crime solving episodes. I will say the writers continue to keep things creative and somewhat fresh. But, I think this series is past its prime and they need to wrap things up while everything still feels OK. The show’s premise held water for a few seasons but now they’ve entered into self-parody land and if progress isn’t made it all goes the way of camp. Beckett should’ve been promoted by now, and Castle needs to grow up and leave the crime fighting to actual professionals. “Open Up! This is NYPD…and my writer BF who follows me around like a lost puppy.”;)
For new series we get a few standouts. As my plate is mostly full, I’m simply not able to visit much more than what I brought with me from returning shows. However…
‘Gotham’ seems promising. A sorta prequel to “Batman” where Master Wayne is a recently orphaned child and Jim Gordan is a newly minted rookie Detective. Lots of earnest attempts at bringing classic DC characters to “early” life, most notable The Penguin, Cat-Woman (Cat-Girl!), and the Falcone/Maroni crime families. Some of it works, some doesn’t. Another case of too many spinning plates. With so many cameos from DC élite sitting there it’s hard to focus and care about these people and their problems. The whole retro world with modern cell phones thing is more distracting than anything–so are we to believe that Batman comes of age in 2020? Should’ve have kept things in the past, thinking the 80s would’ve been a perfect mix of seedy urban settings and pop-culture camp.
DC’s resident Demon hunter ‘Constantine’ started out weakly. Many have praised Matt Ryan’s performance as this burned out, chain-smoking self-destructive man, but I find him over-bearing and annoying. Like he’s channeling his best angst-ridden, angry British guy (à la Colin Farrell in ‘Daredevil’). And his support cast is paper-thin. Think this is one that should’ve stayed in the oven awhile longer.
And SyFy’s ‘Z Nation’ has promise. Their constant riffing of other zombie films/series is fun and they’ve shown no fear of killing off major characters, nor tackling disturbing content–they actually addressed running out of food must eat people issue weeks before ‘The Walking Dead’. But the team behind ‘Sharknado’ is showing to be unable to sustain a comprehensive story without it all becoming a self-parody. Don’t mind a little dark camp, just don’t lose site of the human cost or we risk losing interest in these characters and their ongoing plight.
CW’s sister series to ‘Arrow’, ‘The Flash’ looks more promising. Able to keep within the already established DC world, but with a more optimistic city and more optimistic heroes it is able to keep from getting mired in the regret and bitterness of ‘Arrow’. Barry Allen is the DC equivalent to Peter Parker and his youthfulness and eagerness makes for much more accessible, and enjoyable weekly adventures. If they can find a solid balance between the dark and light this show has potential to even “outrun” (couldn’t resist) the ‘Arrow’.
So there you have it. With plenty of returning shows coming later or in the spring (‘The Newsroom’ Final Season starts on Sunday!). So I’ll be chiming some time this winter with more commentary.
Special mention to early Fall start genre-ish show ‘Outlander’. Great seeing Ronald D. Moore back on weekly TV and am liking the whole modern woman stuck in old, war-torn Scottish highlands set-up. But WTF is up with the like 6 month break in the middle of part 1 and part 2 of this début season? That’s a longer break then many shows get between entire seasons. Well, at least its been renewed already.
Chad Schulz, Nov 2014