TV

Esteemed Producers at Animal Planet,

I am writing today on behalf of what I can confidently assume is millions of citizens of the world to request – nay, beg – that you kindly order more episodes of my favorite show.

CC2K's new TV editor, Mark Hurley, makes his debut with his examination of a baffling topic: Why does anyone like The Big Bang Theory?

What was pitched as an artistic choice turned out to be one of necessity -- and we're all the better for it.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Here's my favorite joke from the original run of Arrested Development: While planning a charity event, George Bluth Sr. asks his family to recommend an organization or cause to benefit. Everyone recommends something self-serving in the secret ballot, except one family member, who suggests "cervical cancer."

"Oh, I wonder who wrote that one down," George Sr. deadpans as the camera cuts to Michael.

I love this moment, not only because it's funny and indicative of the family's self-involvement, but also because this is how we find out the cause of Tracey Bluth's death -- through comedy.

For me, comedies are always best when they're dramas (or outright tragedies) first. The fourth season of AD didn't deliver as much tragedy as I would have liked, but it did finally reveal Michael's late wife amidst a hectic, muddled, misshapen new season that was frustrating and funny, off-kilter and canny.

Oh my God.

Please give me a moment to remove my jaw from the floor.

Okay, I’m ready now.  First things first.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SUNDAY NIGHT’S EPISODE OF GAME OF THRONES AHEAD.  SERIOUSLY.  DO NOT PASS GO.  DO NOT COLLECT $200.  THIS IS ONE EPISODE YOU DO NOT WANT TO SPOIL YOURSELF FOR…

Monday, 25 March 2013 02:00

Girls, Rape, and Rom-Coms

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Girls has become my favorite love-to-hate show.  It’s often frustrating, maddeningly inconsistent, and glaringly unrealistic, but I have more fun talking about it with Phoebe Raven and Kristen Lopez (CC2K’s television and movie editors, respectively) on Facebook the next day than I do actually watching the episode.  From a critical perspective, the show gives us a lot to dissect, and the darker tone of season 2 has given me, at least, more to sink my teeth into than season 1.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012 00:00

Joss Whedon: Recognition at Long Last

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CC2K Newcomer River Kali takes a look back at Joss Whedon's career and examines, why it has taken so long for him to gain mainstream recognition.

Joss Whedon is an immensely talented auteur.  He’s been in the business for twenty-five years.  He’s created some of the most complex, thought-provoking television in history (the cult hit, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, its spinoff, Angel, the short-lived, but much loved Firefly, and the underrated, but also short-lived Dollhouse).  As a former script doctor, he’s also had his hand in some of the most successful films in Hollywood (Toy Story; Twister), but it wasn’t until 2012 that he truly entered the mainstream conscious, thanks to the comic book blockbuster, The Avengers, which Whedon directed and wrote the screenplay for.

So if Whedon is so gifted, then why is it he’s only now found mainstream success?  Part of the problem is definitely that his work tends to be quite niche and quirky, but a larger part of the problem is network and studio interference, which Whedon has been experiencing almost since the beginning of his career.  In the late eighties, he wrote a rather ingenious horror-comedy screenplay, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, that was destined to be a cult hit and a critical darling, if not a bona fide smash. But the film, once released, performed miserably at the box office and was trashed by the critics.  It’s easy to place the fault at Whedon’s feet; after all, he wrote the screenplay, but a closer examination reveals that the director and producers, who have more power in Hollywood than writers, wanted to turn the script into a full-on comedy and allowed Donald Sutherland, a highly respected actor that plays a major supporting role in the film, to rewrite the screenplay to his liking.
Whedon was later commissioned to write a script for the fourth film in the Alien franchise, Alien: Resurrection and unfortunately, the same thing that happened to the Buffy movie happened to Alien: Resurrection: the director changed Joss’ script and the film suffered.

It wasn’t until Joss was asked to turn Buffy into a television show on the fledging network WB (now merged with UPN, the network Buffy moved to after its fifth season, and known as CW) that he was given creative control and the results were tremendous: the show was never a ratings juggernaut, but it’s become a pop culture phenomenon, lauded by critics as one of the best television shows ever, has been nominated and won numerous awards, including a best writing Emmy for the Season Four episode “Hush”, and produced a successful spinoff, Angel, which ran for five seasons on the same network.

Whedon was on a roll, until Fox network asked him to make a television show for them.  Whedon gave them Firefly, a space western soap opera.  Fox was disappointed with the pilot and forced Whedon to make another one with more action and a more likeable lead.   The problems didn’t end there.  When the show finally aired, Fox put it on Fridays, notoriously known as “the death time slot”, due to most people in the coveted 18-49 demographic not watching television that night.  Fox also aired the episodes out of order and pre-empted it for baseball.  Unsurprisingly, Firefly was canceled after only one season, and Whedon said he’d never do another show for Fox.

About five years later, a management change at Fox and his good friend and frequent collaborator, Eliza Dushku, convinced Whedon to create another show for Fox: the much maligned Dollhouse, which was a star vehicle for Dushku.  Dollhouse faced many of the same obstacles as Firefly: pilot changes mandated by Fox, Friday night timeslot, etc.  Dollhouse managed to last a season longer than Firefly, but was canceled prematurely just the same.

Prior to Dollhouse, Whedon made the web miniseries, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along-blog, during the 2008 writer’s strike, with his own money, thus allowing him to have full creative control, and it was not only a mega hit (the miniseries’ budget was in the mid-six figures and made over three-million once released) but also garnered Whedon his first Emmy.
Whedon didn’t have another credit until 2012, where he released two films.  The first, The Cabin in the Woods, which he co-wrote, was originally slated for release in 2010, but was pushed back due to financial difficulties at MGM, the studio releasing the film.  
Lionsgate, an independent film and television distribution company, bought the film in 2011.  The film opened, on April 13, 2012, to high critical praise and made more than double its budget at the box office.  Whedon was allowed full creative control of the project.

The second film was the much ballyhooed The Avengers, for which Whedon was handpicked to write and direct.  The success of the film is astronomical: high critical praise and the third highest grossing film of all time, worldwide and in the US. ABC/Disney has commissioned Whedon to do a “S.H.I.E.L.D.” television show and further work in the Marvel film universe, including The Avengers sequel, until 2015.  They’ve done a good job of letting Whedon have creative control so far, but if they want him to keep delivering good material, then they should keep giving him creative control, because the pattern is clear:  when Joss Whedon is given control of his work, it succeeds, both creatively and commercially.  When he’s bogged down by network and studio interference, his work suffers.

Thursday, 16 May 2013 01:00

NYCC'12: VENTURE BROS!

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Your favorite Jonny Quest wanna bes are back! Hank and Dean are gearing up for season 5 airing on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. CC2K had the pleasure to talk to the show's creators, actors, and writers: Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer.

spaced222Jessica Hynes (Spaced, Burke and Hare, Shaun of the Dead) will write three episodes of a new series called Up The Women.

The lovely Phoebe Raven is off gallivanting in parts unknown and no doubt enjoying far better television than what’s out at present. There were several things I could have discussed as I substitute for Ms. Raven but I found myself going back to a show she and I both love: The Voice. Yes I hate to discuss reality television and I probably could have done something on far superior shows like Copper or The New Normal but The Voice has been nagging me. This was a show that strived to be different but somehow in its last two seasons it’s become American Idol with classier judges. I decided to count down the five things that have grown to make me hate The Voice.

 

The NFL was finally back in (regular season) action this past weekend and there were few other females as excited about this as I was, especially very few European females. However, aside from my team losing their season opener (let’s not talk about it, seriously), I noticed again a feature of American television in general – and football broadcasts in particular – that really makes me hate watching live: the mind-boggling frequency of (commercial) breaks.
Basically, live American television is unwatchable, period. And that should worry a lot of people.

I struggled with the frequency of commercial breaks during scripted television shows during my time in Atlanta so much that even though technically I could finally watch my favorite shows live, I didn’t. I waited for the DVR to finish recording and then watched the episodes, even if that meant I was a few hours or sometimes even a day behind the initial live broadcast and hence couldn’t participate in some of the lively (get it?) debates on my Twitter feed.
I simply could not be bothered with watching a mere seven minutes of a show and then watch two minutes of commercials, which were too loud, repetitive and all-around unappealing.

I was bothered by the length of the commercial breaks because they neither provided enough time to go to the bathroom and heat up another hot pocket, nor were they short enough not to make me groan with annoyance watching them. The German concept of 15-20 minutes of scripted show interrupted by 3-6 minutes of commercials is much more conducive to toilet breaks and replenishing the food and drink supply.
This problem is greatly exacerbated during football broadcasts, especially those of the NFL. Sometimes a play such as a punt takes less than a minute and it is right back to commercials. At no other point do I feel so reduced to nothing more than a consumer who is supposed to give companies money than when I am watching NFL football. The action on the field doesn’t even start up again until the commercials have finished – a phenomenon I had to explain to some foreign exchange students who were at a professional football game with me in the US and wondered why nothing was happening on the field even though the Atlanta Falcons were standing at the ready.

Furthermore, the more I think about how a live broadcast of a scripted TV show is structured in the US, the more I understand why so many people still do not consider television shows “art” or at least “respectable”. No matter how much we TV critics analyze and praise certain shows, the commercials that are interspersed in a live broadcast have the power to destroy everything and anything in their path, wreaking havoc on any artistic expression contained within a television show (which critics usually watch as commercial-free screeners). There is a reason why HBO shows are successful besides their content. Their presentation is just so much more relaxing and appealing and makes the viewer feel like a viewer, not a consumer.

That I, personally, also just do not respond to any of the commercials on American television may be based on the fact that I grew up in a different culture and was hence socialized differently. To me, American commercials scream a lot of numbers and prices at me (prices are almost never mentioned in German commercials), show me cars I don’t want because they waste too much fuel, and present gender roles I am disgusted by.
The sheer volume of the commercials is not an exclusively American problem, it occurs in the European market as well and it is one of the main reasons why my remote almost never leaves my hand while I am watching TV and the mute button is the most frequently pushed button on it.
During last Sunday’s NFL broadcast it was particularly annoying to me that the Fox affiliate I was watching insisted on promoting the MLB on ESPN in every! single! break! and I just happen to not like baseball at all (again, this could stem from me not being a born and raised American). But even when watching an NFL broadcast that is not trying to shove baseball down your throat, the commercials during the game breaks are horribly repetitive, usually offering a variety of 5 to 10 different clips over and over and over again. It’s the perfect recipe for losing any viewer’s interest and turning them into mindless, consumption-oriented drones.

While I do not subscribe to the dogma that our internet- and media-saturated age automatically makes (young) people dumber, lazier, lonelier, more violent et cetera, I cannot deny that I am noticing people’s attention spans growing shorter and shorter. I even notice this in myself. I am seldom still capable of doing just one thing for a long period of time, unless it is something I am really, really interested in, like playing Mass Effect.
I am, however, a subscriber to the theory that the media cultivate their own recipients, meaning if they challenge them, the recipients will “evolve” and rise to the challenge. Think of it this way: when feeding your pet, you can either just shove food in their adorable face, or you can make them work for it, like you reward them with treats for performing a trick. Our media, especially television, could cultivate a kind of viewer who relishes and cherishes shows that are complex, intelligent, deep and artistic by offering more of – if not exclusively -these shows. Such heartbreaking early cancellations as those of Firefly, Pushing Daisies or My So-Called Life would be a thing of the past.

Am I being a bit of a utopian dreamer? Of course I am. One almost has to be in these cynical times. Being a TV columnist and critic it is an essential skill to fool oneself into thinking that the actual content of television still matters to anyone in the “money department” of television networks. It should though, because the migration of viewers away from traditional television and into the on-demand sector (HBO, Netflix etc.) is a screeching alarm that has been sounding for quite some time. Not only is the time shift and place shift aspect of such on-demand and subscription services a big draw, the fact that they are (largely) commercial-free is probably the biggest initial appeal along with the instant availability instead of waiting for the – also commercial-free – DVD or BluRay sets.

As it stands, traditional television is degenerating into an empty shell constructed to present more goods for consumption. The original content of the glass has been emptied to make room for more “messages” (don’t you love they still call commercials “messages”?) that no one wants to hear and no one should have to hear.
I don’t miss not being able to watch live American television and if I didn’t love my Packers so damn much, I’d stop doing it all together and I suspect sooner or later everyone will.