Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Premiere Week TV Report, Part 2

:: Wow, I really enjoyed Agents of SHIELD. It fits in nicely around the fringes of the Cinematic Marvel Universe, just like I was hoping.

It's interesting reading some of the reviews. I particularly think it's cute how so many of the reviewers are saying that think this show--set in a comic book universe--should tone down its comic book references and in-jokes, while simultaneously creaming in their jeans over its Joss Whedon references and in-jokes.

But I've seen a few reviews that say "Well, I'm not sure how much I would get this show if I hadn't seen any of the Avengers movies and was just walking in cold..." but I'm not sure I value that kind of criticism. It's too much of an attempt to be even-handed over something that is based in a world that's been established in seven movies and a few short films and comic books that have existed for 50 years. Frankly, without that, I'm not sure I'd care so much about watching it, because there are already a lot of TV series on the air about a team of (mostly white) specialists investigating mysteries, crimes, the supernatural, etc. (What I used to call the Michael Crichton Plot--a team of hastily-assembled specialists investigate something weird while trying to get along.)

I'm also not sure how much a pre-familiarity matters for a couple of reasons. One, the existence of all this other stuff means the show can hit the ground running, worrying more about establishing its characters (which is why they're all so exaggerated at first, like a comic book) than establishing the world it takes place in. I like that, because its world already feels full, like it exists outside of how its characters experience it, which is something a lot of shows don't attempt in a first episode.

And two, because I think it's really hard to gauge what someone walking in cold will think is obvious or will process quickly compared to someone who's grown up as a comic book fan. I remember when the first X-Men movie came out in 2000, and comic book fans were saying it was amazing how the film could take decades of comics history and boil it down to its easily-digestible essence--"It's the comic book movie that you don't have to be a fan to understand!" And then, at the same time, a lot of non-fan reviewers felt the movie was confusing and too crowded, and I remember Roger Ebert suggesting that theaters hire an X-Men fan to sit in the lobby and answer questions for any bewildered audience members who didn't understand what was going on. So there are differences in perception there.

Anyway, The Avengers alone made enough money that I think we can safely assume that a lot of people went to see it and those people are the target audience. In one respect, I think it's nice to see a show give you some credit for being caught up. If you're not... well, now's a great time to see the movies you missed. Most of them are on Netflix, and most of them are really good. Even the bad ones are fun on some level.

One of the things I particularly liked about the pilot episode was the sort of "human vs. superhuman" theme. Something else I tend to not like in a lot of genre shows is the way that they're always some sort of secret society or somehow operating in total secrecy and no one ever figures out that, say, vampires exist in the world and they're engaged in some sort of shadow war with a select group of Chosen Ones who have set out to stop them. I know a lot of that is usually budget-dictated, but sometimes I also think that's a failure of imagination. I guess it could also be because there's a decision not to portray a world that's too radically different from reality because there are people who think that makes something harder to relate to. I like that SHIELD exists in a world that knows there are superhumans out there and where everyone's trying to adjust to this and figure out how to live in a world that's radically changed. I like that the pilot talked about the idea that some people might find that a scary world with possibly fewer advantages for mere humanity.

I really dug it, and I look forward to watching more. It looks expensive, so I hope it does well so they can keep it around. And Clark Gregg is just awesome. I'm much more enthusiastic about this show than a lot of the shows I've watched so far. (Granted, it's only been two days.)

:: I also watched Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition last night. I've been into that. Dance Moms ended, so this will hold me over until the next season starts. I hope there's a next season. There's a next season, isn't there? Please? How in the hell did I get addicted to that show? Like, you guys don't even know, because I don't talk about it a ton here, but I freaking love Dance Moms.

:: That's Tuesdays for me for now. Becca and I are already talking about just giving up on Castle. I'm not generally one of those people who keeps watching a show when it gets bad. I do sometimes (obviously), but I know some people who are just completely uncritical about watching a show they once loved, because if they love the characters they don't feel there's such a thing as a bad episode. I tend to be more the opposite: I don't want to sit around and watch a show I once loved wither and die. So, if next week's Castle was as bad as this week's, I think it's one of those things I'll just catch up on, maybe, a few years from now. Same with Revenge, which hasn't even started, but which I didn't enjoy last season the way I did in the first. I'm not really looking forward to catching it again. I hope they hit the ground running. Otherwise, I might be gone in a few weeks.

:: Speaking of shows deteriorating, I do need things to distract me from my disorders sometimes, and bingeing a TV series helps, because there's a forward progression and a clear goal in sight, and that's the kind of thing that focuses me. So I've been catching up on Netflix with those final two seasons of The Office that I didn't watch when they were on. It started off okay--better than I figured it would, but mainly that was because of James Spader. It's reached the point for me now where the clear hand of interference for the sake of interference is happening. Sorry, but another woman making a play for Jim is just one of those plot developments that happen because they can't think of anything else to do with it, and it feels insulting because so much of the show was about Pam and Jim and their unrequited love. It's kind of what did the show in for me, getting them together, because once they got married they kind of became assholes. (It was the Michael Scott maturing story thread that was my major interest, which is why I dumped week-to-week viewing when he left the show.)

It's easier to take this, though, when you're going through these developments at a relatively quicker pace. Without commercials, these things run 19 minutes long, so you can blow through half a season in less than four hours, which--since I can't work right now--is just an afternoon for me.

This is the thing about week-to-week viewing vs. binge-watching that I never see talked about in the stupidly copious volume of online debate we're having about this: when it comes down to it, it's the show that helps you make the decision. It's the level of excitement and interest you have over it. I didn't want to devote nine months of my life to The Office every year because it wasn't worth that time investment. Sure, it was only 30 minutes a week, for usually three or four weeks in a row at once, but watching it week-to-week also demands a certain amount of mental investment in keeping the story in your mind. I didn't feel The Office rewarded me for keeping up. But taking my lowered expectations to Netflix for a few afternoons gives me enough entertainment (because some bits are still funny, even though a lot of the plot developments aren't) as a whole.

Does that make sense? When the volume of entertainment per episode became smaller, it became more worth my time to watch more episodes at once.

And with some shows, like Low Winter Sun, it just doesn't hold my interest week-to-week. When I started watching it, I watched the first five episodes at once, over two days, because I'd recorded them but not yet watched them. It pulled me along and I was interested to see what happens next. But waiting a week between episodes, it doesn't hold me. It's not involving enough to me. The suspense wears off. I still haven't watched the episode I TiVo'd on Sunday because I'm just not interested. And I probably won't, either. I don't feel like watching any more of it. And the kicker is there are only two episodes left. But I don't care what happens. It's not that kind of show for me. Watching all 8 episodes in a day or two, though, would have been a more compelling experience. Hell, it was.

I just don't see it as some sort of bad thing that you can control your rate of consumption on a TV show. Sometimes shows work better--particularly shows that are serialized and depend on a level of suspense and momentum--when you watch more episodes in a sitting than waiting another week or two or four (depending on what time of year it is when it's airing).

Wow, this went on way longer than I meant it to.

UPDATE 2:32 PM: Forgot to mention that I watched Trophy Wife, which sounds like I probably didn't like it, but I did. It was breezy and cute, and I love Malin Akerman. I like having a breezy, cute comedy, and since Happy Endings and Don't Trust the B----- in Apt. 23 aren't coming back (damn it), this one's going to be batting cleanup for the probably brief amount of time it's on.

Tonight it's the returns of Modern Family (a show I enjoy but don't love) and Nashville (a show I do love because it's basically everything I want out of a silly primetime soap--hope it doesn't follow the example of too many second seasons and just roll downhill). Also, the finale of Broadchurch; are you as excited as I am? And also the season premiere of South Park; are you as enthusiastic as I'm not?

Also, just mentioning I watch Shark Tank for the sake of completion.

UPDATE 5:25 PM: I finished season 8 of The Office. Didn't realize season 9 wasn't on Netflix yet (apparently it just hit DVD a couple of weeks ago), so I'll see it later. The season didn't veer off the way I thought it was going to, and also I love Catherine Tate pretty much always, so that helped make some of the final episodes funnier (I've always found Ed Helms rather grating).


Tallulah Morehead said...

Revenge has a new show-runner this season, who has promised to simplify the overly-complicated storylines and recapture the feel of season 1. I hope they do. Like you, I'm giving Castle one more epsisode to get it back together, or I'm outta there.

SamuraiFrog said...

That gives me more hope for Revenge, then. I've been dreading it a bit, because I really didn't like the direction of season 2.

Bob Rutledge said...

I haven't seen it yet (though it's sitting on my HD waiting), but a friend on Facebook posted the group shot promo picture for "SHIELD" with the caption "Torchwood: Marvel".

Autumn said...

I thought Shield could have used a bit less CG, some of it threw me out of what was going on, but I thought overall it was great. And maybe I wouldn't have understood it if I hadn't seen Avengers, but isn't that why it's on and why I'm watching it? Part of the reason I'm enjoying it is because I went in knowing the back story already, like I was already in on some of the inside jokes or something.

Castle is just...sad. I already gave up this season so I'm looking forward to your update on it getting better or not so I know if I want to bother diving back in!

Roger Owen Green said...

I DID watch The Office in real time (OK, on DVR), and while the penultimate season was often cringeworthy, I thought it ended well. (Oh, heck, even in the Michael Scott era, there would be cringeworthy shows.)

SamuraiFrog said...

There were a LOT of cringeworthy episodes in the Michael Scott era, I just wanted to see where his character ended up. As soon as he left, so did I. But I think the show pretty much jumped the shark when Michael drove his car into a lake just because the GPS told him to.

Though the Michael Scott Paper Company arc was brilliant; probably the last real brilliant thing that show ever dad. And it has Idris Elba, who is always wonderful.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I disliked season 2 of Revenge also.