Monday, May 24, 2010

Clocking Out on 24

This week saw the end of two of the biggest dramas on TV, which also happened to be two of my favorite shows from the past decade. While most of the attention has been paid to Lost for many obvious reasons (more build-up, more unanswered questions, less of a drop in quality over time), I'm still processing its polarizing ending and am not yet ready (ie don't have the time) to do a full write-up. Though while I can't say I loved the very ending, I still liked the episode overall.

Compared to Lost, 24 didn't try to do too much. While it was cancelled in plenty of time to craft a series finale, it still felt very much like just a regular season ender. Up until the last five minutes there was nothing broader-reaching than ending the season's plot. No references to earlier seasons, no surprise returns of previous characters, just...well...about what you'd expect.

I admit that I was behind for most of this season, and spent the past few weeks rapidly catching up so I could watch the finale on time. And overall it was uneven. After a very slow start and one of the stupidest storylines in 24 history with anything having to do with Dana Walsh, the middle of the season kicked it into gear as the Hassan assassination plot came back with a vengeance, and it felt like vintage 24 was back.

That momentum carried in briefly to phase 2 with the return of President Logan, 24's Benjamin Linus or Arthur Frobisher, and one of its most enjoyable villains. But as Jack got a little too into his crazy revenge killing spree, something happened that frequently happens to long running shows: everybody lost their likability. Jack's always walked a fine line between good and dark, but even if he was trying to expose the truth it was clear he had just straight-out lost it. Since most of us watch the show to see Jack be badass, crazy Jack just isn't as much fun. With President Taylor having gone crazy in the opposite direction and most of the cast already written out, that pretty much left Chloe as the sole person worth rooting for.

So much of the finale was about bringing everyone back to sanity. Chloe talked Jack down off his Russian president-assassinating ledge to get him to expose the conspiracy. President Taylor called off the peace treaty at the last second to announce her involvement in the cover-up. Even Pillar wanted to call off the hit on Jack....before Logan went full-out crazy and shot him because...oh, who knows. Was it believable Logan would kill his trusted aide just to be extra sure nobody would find Jack on time? Not so much.

If Logan's end didn't make a whole lot of sense, it was at least somewhat surprising. For a show that's prided itself on its big twists and shocks, these final two hours were surprisingly by the book. The biggest character death was Pillar's, since we were led to believe Logan would survive. There were no shocking reveals or reversals. Even ending with Jack in exile isn't anything new. Previous seasons have seen him fake his own death and go into hiding, be captured by the Chinese, and wander around the world hiding from a government investigation. Other than setting up the movie we all know about, Jack's end didn't accomplish much.

For me though, what brings 24's end from unambitious to disappointing was the relative lack of Jack Bauer throughout its running time. He basically spends the second hour in a gurney. There's no awesome Bauer moments where he does something crazy and badass. He doesn't outwit anyone in any clever way. He starts off crazy, and ends just sad and depressed. There's something wrong when the finest moments in the episode are between President Taylor and Dahlia Hassan. This is Bauer Hour, and Jack didn't go out on top.

I wish 24 had gone out with a bit more of a bang. I wish we could have had a surprise visit from Mandy, or Tony, or at least Aaron Pierce. Seriously, how was the final season the only one out of eight to not feature our favorite secret service agent? But it just goes to show that this was the right time for 24 to end. It didn't overstay its welcome with an embarrassing end, just an unexceptional one. I'll have more to say about the 24 legacy eventually, but this final season certainly didn't harm it. It may be awhile until any show comes close to matching 24 for action, suspense, and daring, but until then we can look forward to the movie.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Last Day of Upfronts

Today's the last day of the network upfronts, and it belongs to last-place finisher The CW. You can check out the full schedule here. As a guy over the age of 14, I don't watch a lot of CW, but still somehow more than CBS. So here's my thoughts.

Only two new shows, Hellcats and Nikita. Hellcats is a cheerleading show starring a girl from High School Musical. While the show may be set in college, I'm skeptical anyone college-age or above will be watching. Which leaves Nikita as the CW's most promising new show by default. The original was supposed to be cool, so may be worth a shot (even if it is another remake).

In the returning shows front, Life Unexpected was renewed, fortunately. It may have had an uneven first season, but it was likable enough that it deserves another year to figure things out. One Tree Hill continues to be the show that won't die. But you do have to give it credit as one of the few shows that cares so little about quality they'll do whatever they think seems crazy. And Melrose Place is, unsurprisingly, history.

So now that we've filled in the network grid, how's the fall looking? Compared to this past year, I'm seeing surprisingly few conflicts a DVR can't solve. Nothing near the difficulty of Glee vs. Lost. On Tuesdays at 8 Glee's going against the promising-sounding No Ordinary Heroes, but let's wait to see how that is before worrying about time-delaying it. Thursdays at 8 is Community vs. Big Bang Theory, which will piss off a lot of people but I don't currently watch either. And Sundays continue to be cable-only for me.

We won't know if any of these new shows are any good until pilot reviews start popping up and we get a chance to check them out ourselves. But I'm skeptical this fall will be a repeat of the previous one, when Glee and Modern Family broke onto the scene. Maybe I'll find one or two shows to add, but the networks aren't going to find appointment TV if they keep relying on the same cop shows, lawyer shows, and remakes they've depended on for years.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

CBS Fall Schedule

Entertainment Weekly posted CBS' fall schedule, and I'm going to have to break my "two shows worth checking out per network" pattern from the past couple days cause I don't see anything that looks like it's for me. While some are calling CBS "bold" for moving around its hit shows on the schedule, there's nothing bold about the typical parade of procedurals and conventional sitcoms that CBS is adding to the schedule. It has that reputation for a reason.

Here's what they've got:

Hawaii Five-O - Remake, but at least with a good cast

Criminal Minds 2 - In case the original wasn't bad enough

Defenders - Yet another legal show

Blue Bloods - Yet another cop show

Shit My Dad Says - Sounds like it's been given the broad CBS sitcom treatment

Mike and Molly - Another probably lame sitcom, but Chuck Lorre did make Big Bang Theory, so the only thing that might be worth checking out.

I'm still waiting for the next Lost.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday Upfront Update

Entertainment Weekly just posted ABC's fall schedule, so time to take a look at what they've got going on this fall. As with the other networks, the majority of shows seem to be more cop and lawyer procedurals. Seriously, are there people watching every single one of these? Enough! But just as yesterday I picked out the two most promising sounding shows for NBC and Fox, I've got 2 ABC shows I'm looking forward to as well.

No Ordinary Family - A drama about a family that suddenly gets superpowers, this is basically Heroes meets The Incredibles. But The Incredibles is awesome, and with a cast that includes Julie Benz (Dexter) and Tate Donovan (Damages), I'm hoping it can hold up better than Heroes did.

Mr. Sunshine - When Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip premiered, I had high hopes that it would be Sports Night starring Matthew Perry. But it's looking like this new comedy may be closer to the mark, with Matthew Perry playing the owner of a sports stadium. The pilot's even directed by Sorkin-collaborator Thomas Schlamme! Also stars Allison Janney.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday TV Tidbits

I know I've been away from the blog for awhile, but today marks a good day to check-in with plenty of TV activity. First up, NBC and Fox announced their fall schedules today, and I look at the shows I'm most excited for this fall (despite not having even watched the trailers yet). Next, what I thought was the How I Met Your Mother finale but clearly wasn't. And finally, a very action-packed Gossip Girl finale. Spoiler warnings for the latter.

Next year, the networks have some big shoes to fill with two of the biggest giants in appointment TV retiring: Lost and 24. So what are they doing to cash in on that void? From what I've seen, it appears not much. So far the upfronts have led to announcements of the typical parade of cop shows and lawyer shows (if fewer doctor shows) and nothing trying to be the next Lost. But there are a few shows that seem promising.

Undercovers - Not only the first pick-up of the season, but one of the most high-profile new shows for the fall. With JJ Abrams returning to his Alias roots by putting out a spy show, it's bound to make for a good time.

Running Wilde - Creator of Arrested Development + Will Arnett + Kerri Russell. That's enough to make it my most anticipated comedy so far.

The Event - Wondering what to watch when 24 ends? Well The Event isn't very subtle about trying to fill the void. Not only is it a thriller that features the president as a character, but it's even in 24's current timeslot. Whether it lives up to its predecessor or not, seems worth a shot.

Terra Nova - We have to wait til midseason for this one and nothing's been shot yet, but this Spielberg produced time-travel dinosaur show is the only thing that seems to be thinking on Lost's scale.

ABC, CBS, and the CW are still upcoming, so more to come later this week.

For some reason, I thought tonight was the How I Met Your Mother finale, but despite its year-in-the-making premise, it was clearly just another episode. It was fun to revisit season 4's activities, but did the movie-within-the-show have to be SO exaggerated? I know it's through Future Ted's distorted memories, but it still came off as particularly broad, especially since we were told it was instantly the 5th highest grossing movie ever. More proof that the show is getting more sitcommy with age. Still better than The Office's attempt to do a movie-within-the-show though. But revisiting the Stella arc just served as a reminder of how little Ted's had to do since then. Maybe he'll get something in the real finale.

Lastly, the Gossip Girl finale aired tonight with lots of crazy twists. It didn't seem like there was too much left to do after last week's episode, which so thoroughly tied up the William Baldwin storyline that it felt like a finale in itself. But turned out there was plenty leftover: Jenny's general craziness, Chuck's ultimatum to Blair, Dorota's pregnancy, and so on.

I have to say, for a show as ADD as Gossip Girl that typically finishes up its storylines within 3 episodes and then moves on, these last two episodes did an impressive job pulling everything together. Jenny's drugdealing, Dan and Georgina's one night stand, Jenny and Eric's early-in-the-season fight - all came back. Even Georgina's Grand Central entrance was straight out of the pilot. So while most of the episode may have been designed to shock, at least there's that.

As for the big twists: Jenny and Chuck was just icky, but at least it had some dramatic consequences. Blair banning Jenny from Manhattan was pretty bold. But still, gross. Dan and Serena - last season made everyone beyond sick of them when they broke up again and again, but the show did work best when they were together. Just no more scenes about the Bass brunch. And who knows, maybe it will make Serena seem like less of a bitch than she's been all season (and especially as of late).

Chuck getting shot: Already in interviews the writers aren't even pretending there's a chance he might die. Clearly just for cliffhanger drama. But I guess it worked. Still, biggest cliffhanger was Georgina's pregnancy. I believe it's real (though it sure looked fake), but she's still got to be up to something. Could it be Dan's brother's? Or did the show forget he exists? I certainly did. And what was up with all that stuff about Russia?

Whether any of these things lead to an improved fourth season I couldn't say, but with most of the season ranging between uneven and dull, at least the finale got my attention. With a baby, a gunshot, a pregnancy, a deflowering, and a send-off, most of the May trademarks were present. So not a bad way to start finale week.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

We've Reached the Final Four Episodes

Wow. I figured tonight's Lost would be big. Not only did it begin the final four episodes of the series (!!!), but next week's episode is a Jacob/Man in Black flashback ep. And whenever there's a flashback ep, there's always a huge cliffhanger the week before to keep you watching. But I still wasn't expecting an episode that should thoroughly silence anyone worried this season wasn't moving fast enough. Obviously, HUGE SPOILER ALERT to anyone who hasn't seen it yet, as you don't want to be spoiled. I'll skip a few lines and then continue for those of you who have already watched.

Ok, has everyone else left? Good. So much happened it's hard to know where to start. How about in sideways world, which boiled the show down to its original conflicting relationship: Jack and Locke. In sideways world, it's Jack who's the believer and Locke who's the cynic. And turns out Locke's alternate path was chosen by a familiar event: a plane crash. Instead of restoring his legs, a previous plane crash took his ability to walk away.

We know Desmond's plan to make Locke remember the island worked to some extent, as he flashed to his time in the hatch while unconscious. And certainly Jack saying aloud Locke's own posthumous words, "I wish you had believed me," made a difference. So while Desmond may be the link between the two worlds, it's Jack and Locke who are the center, the ones all the other characters are flocking to.

All that said, the sideways story wasn't anywhere near as riveting as the island story, which was easily the most suspenseful and most upsetting episode of the season, if not the series. All of the island characters (minus chronically MIA Richard, Ben, and Miles) converged at Widmore's camp and made a break for the plane. With Locke declaring the plane unsafe, claiming Widmore was trying to bring them into a contained space and kill them, the back-up plan became the even more contained space.

As soon as the sub dived and everyone realized "wait, why did Jack let Locke put his backpack on," things got fucking nuts. Of course Locke put the bomb in the backpack, but why? Oh, because he was the one who actually wanted to get everyone in a contained space and kill them so there would be no candidates left to stop him. But Jack had a solution: Locke can't kill the candidates, so if they do nothing, it will be like Jack lighting the dynamite on the Black Rock. Nothing would happen. But Sawyer didn't believe him, and the clock sped up.

Then the show's resident Iraqi Jack Bauer did what Jack Bauer always threatened to do: sacrifice himself to save everyone else. While it was certainly rough to see such a fan favorite go, Sayid's death made a lot of narrative sense. He hadn't been himself ever since coming back from the dead in the Temple, and he's been going through the season like a zombie. But he showed signs of humanity when he didn't kill Desmond (nobody really believed he did), and has been getting more normal since. So by taking one for the team, he proved Ben and MIB wrong in their continued insistence that he's just a killer. A noble death for one of the show's strongest characters.

While Sayid's death was at least understandable, Jin and Sun's just hurt. As many times as Jin insisted he could free Sun, it was clear what was going to happen: he would stay to die with the woman he spent 3 seasons trying to find again. Talk about a Joss Whedon move, killing them off one episode after their reunion. Sure, it was a bit Titanic with the water level rising, but Jin and Sun easily made for one of the saddest death scenes of the series to date. It was also a lot like Charlie's death, which was also under water. Man, Lost characters really need to stop going underwater.

So between Sayid, Jin, Sun, and I suppose Lapidus as well, this was Lost's deadliest episode ever, and a clear set-up to the end of the series. There's no more question about which of the island gods is good or evil, or what side to choose. It's survivors vs. MIB at this point, and at all cost. We know Desmond will play an important part given Sayid's final words to Jack. And while despite the episode title we didn't find out who will actually replace Jacob, it seems pretty clearly to be Jack. Next week should provide some major answers that were in shorter supply this week. But for an action and character packed episode, this one seems bound to stand up with some of the series' best. I'm gonna miss this show.