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It's never been a secret that David Simon, one of the show's creators, has his background in journalism, while Ed Burns has his in police work and teaching. It was Burns's passionate feelings about the public school system that led the show into Season Four and its wrenching, complicated examination of kids who are slipping away before the eyes of caring, conscientious adults who, all too often, can do nothing for the kids and nothing to soothe their own consciences. It would be insane to fault the show for drawing on the personal experiences of its creators, because without their personal experiences, there would more than obviously be no show.
But I am worried. I am worried about Season Five, and I am worried about its focus on the media, and I am worried about the fact that Simon has appeared to be on a protracted crusade against specific people from The Baltimore Sun ever since he left. In particular, Simon has this thing about Bill Marimow, now the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and, when Simon was there, the editor of the Sun. If you recognize the name, of course, it's because in Season Four, Simon already went to the trouble of naming the horrible, incompetent, abusive lieutenant who took over the unit "Marimow." Just as a poke. Just as a big fat "I hate you." Just to do it. And now, a season later, we're in the newsroom of the Sun, confronting an editor who, in the first episode, is the only cartoonish villain I have ever seen on this show. While every other potential heavy the show has ever had has been presented complete with the pressures brought to bear on him that affect his choices, this editor seems to just be (pardon me) an asshole and an empty suit. This will be Simon's Marimow, without the name.
Read more about the feud here.
Here's my problem: I watched Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. And one of the things I thought made it such a miserable failure was that it wasn't really about what it wanted to be about. It wanted to be about trying to make smart television in the face of all kinds of pressure, but Aaron Sorkin's need to settle scores got in his way. Sorkin has commented intelligently on precisely what he was trying to get at -- particularly in SportsNight. But by the time he got to Studio 60, he was so mad -- he was so mad -- that there was no way he could clear-headedly address the complications of media and money. There were only saintly artists always saying and doing the right thing on one side, and wicked media bosses hating and abusing quality on the other side. Situations were contrived to make points, characters were sacrificed to clarify lines between good and evil, and ultimately, the show was about nothing so much as it was about Sorkin trying to take a series of pokes at various network people he had dealt with in the past -- not to mention venting his frustration over not being, in a conventional sense, an effective comedy writer.
Don't get me wrong -- David Simon is no Aaron Sorkin. I think he's a much more self-aware guy, he's a far more talented artist, he's got a lot more talented people working around him, and he has an A-plus-plus cast where Sorkin had maybe a B-plus cast. There's no way, based on the first episode of the fifth season (which is all I've seen), to say that the season will fall victim to Studio-60-itis. But I am worried as hell.
Most writers draw on experience, and God knows there have been plenty of successful satires based on a writer's desire to rip a strip off the idiots and weasels encountered in day-to-day life. Maybe Simon will do this brilliantly. Maybe I will swallow every word I'm saying here; I sure as hell hope so.
But I am worried. The thing is, all writing fails if it's about the writer. A drama where the villain is your lousy boss or your crummy boyfriend or whatever can certainly work if you can get enough distance from the subject matter that it's still about what you're trying to say, rather than how you're trying to make yourself feel. When I see David Simon say it was his "fantasy for revenge," even if he's later going to say that was hyperbole, that makes me feel like the season is being written because he's still so mad. You can be so mad -- Ed Burns is so mad about the schools. They're both so mad about the drug wars. But they write about being so mad in order to impart something to the audience, not as a "fantasy for revenge." My fear is that it really is a fantasy for revenge. My fear is that the priority in this last season is going to be getting digs in at specific guys and trying to make them squirm in public.
If you sit down to write a book or anything else thinking, "I am going to write this to prove a point to [this person]," you will, 99 percent of the time, fail. I firmly believe that writing has to be from your heart, but for your audience. I fear that this season will end with nothing finer than a big "Take that!", and I will be heartbroken if that happens. Simon has said in the past that you sometimes have to do things that serve the story, and that -- for instance -- failing to kill a character because the character is beloved serves the character, not the story. I am of the opinion that it is just as important to make sure you are serving the story and not the writer.
We will see.
If you felt bad about missing last night's premiere of Paranormal State: don't. It's a terrible show -- boring, overly invested in the Catholic Church as a blanket solution to all paranormal problems, and unable to marshal and explain evidence of hauntings in a convincing way.
Plus, nobody gives a damn about Ryan's alleged "and so we meet again, demon whose name I drama-queenily refuse to let anyone utter aloud...except when I am too busy narrating the show from inside a giant tin can, or using my eyebrows to prompt my psychologist friend to 'feel faint' in the 'presence' of an 'evil' 'spirit,' or wearing my slacks too high" backstory. We tuned in to see if you could find ghosts; if you can't find any, fine, but at least try instead of pantsing around with the holy water. Thermal imaging! Digital tape read-back! Anyone who has read even a page of Hans Holzer knows that this is how it's done! If I, a ghost-story addict, think your show is flaky, you have no chance of impressing anyone else!
Don't bother with it; I wish I hadn't. Catch a rerun of Unsolved Mysteries instead, or hop on over to Weird NJ.com; much spookier, much less with the "the power of Ryan compels you!" dramatics.
The show is just so...off, lately. I've really enjoyed it the last few seasons, but it's really not doing it for me this year, and it's strange, because I have to tell you, I'd looked forward to Sara Sidle's departure for weeks -- could not wait for her to git gone. I really liked Jorja Fox on ER, back in the day, and while I didn't have nearly the level of investment in the Gil/Sara romance that some did -- which is to say that I had none, and sort of thought less of Gil for rewarding all her moping and DUI-ing by finally responding to it -- I actually didn't mind it onscreen, and though Petersen played it well. But Sara had slowly devolved into a collection of mannered line readings, pissy glowering, and inexplicable tonsorial choices (what in the Sam Hill was that late-era-Brady Flo Henderson 'do from a couple seasons ago? And do they not have hot oils in Los Angeles?), and when I read that Fox would be leaving, I was really glad. The character had gotten tired, she'd gotten tired of the character, it showed -- good call.
But since she's left, the show doesn't hang together quite right. I'm all for a Hodges-centric episode now and then, because his relationship with Gil is unique and fun to watch, but that means a Liz-Vassey-centric episode also, usually, and they write her so annoyingly that it takes all the fun out of it.
And then there's this nonsense with Warrick. Sobell used to have a running gag in her CSI recaps about Warrick's semi-permanent residence in the subplot sub-basement, and it has always seemed like Dourdan is underused, particularly when you think about how many Catherine/Sam Braun subplots we had to sit through over the years -- but, you know, the guy has a gambling addiction, and then he gets over it, and then when he mentions gambling, it's kind of hard to tell whether the writers actually remember that. And he gets quickie-married, but then the divorce is taking seventeen times as long as the entire courtship and marriage combined, and we have no reason to care except that it's a device to gin up his drug addiction, and then poor George Eads has to play this Lifetime-y Randolph Mantears scene last night all, "So you're taking uppers AND downers MY GOD MAN LOOK AT YOURSELF"? He actually said that shit, first of all, just in a different order and without the "MY GOD MAN" part, and second of all, who calls them "uppers" anymore? Who wrote that scene, Jim Bouton? And third of all, with the...throwing them in the trash? And Warrick's like, "Good point"? And...they look at some evidence, and...scene?
This isn't even mentioning the weird Oliver-Stone-esque seduction sequence, which may or may not have been a withdrawal nightmare -- I think it was, but it was so stagey and overly drawn out, I couldn't really tell, and "confusing" and "ambiguous" aren't the same things, creatively. Dourdan did his best with the material; I don't envy him having to play that last scene. And at least they got him out of his shirt. It's just way too much, too late for the character. I don't think people watch the show for this sort of soapy Emmy-bait stuff, and if you want to foreground a character who's historically been neglected, you need to do it more gradually.
In short: I see what they were trying to do...I think. But if I'm right, it didn't work, and if I'm wrong, it's a total mess.
But you know what might? News that it's now going to be worked on by Magical Elves, the production company behind Project Runway and Top Chef. Frankly, this is what Bravo should have done in the first place, and it's too bad it took a season of total crapola to figure out that you can't just call it Top Whatever and have people care; it's the actual talent attached to the great project that makes it great. I do give them credit, however, for getting the right people on the case before it was absolutely and completely too late to rescue the franchise. As bad as Top Design was, it's not like a show called Top Design operating on that concept can't work. But it needs to be done really, really differently, and with any luck, Magical Elves will make everything better for all of us, just like the storybooks say.
And I will totally watch a second season of Shear Genius. I won't be proud of it, but I'll do it.
I'm relieved to read that Alan Sepinwall feels the same way I do about Heroes at this point -- namely that he's about done with it: "I have a feeling I'll wind up tuning into 'Heroes' volume 3, whenever it debuts, but I won't be happy with myself for doing it."
Exactly. I want to love the show, and it does certain things well -- not least sensing somehow when I'm about to get truly fed up and kick it off the DVR, then coming across with an exciting, touching episode in the nick of time -- but it just does them too slowly. The Hiro/Kensei plot dragged on too long initially, then wrapped up a bit too quickly on the Adam end. The Maya/Alejandro characters served no purpose that I can see, other than to 1) keep Sylar treading water onscreen until the writers could contrive his return to New York, and 2) bug the holy hell out of the majority of the audience with Maya's wide-eyed, breathy whining and black-eye-gunking. The Monica character, same problem -- cool enough power, but didn't move the ball forward, and in the climactic scene, she...didn't even use her power. I have zero issue with Niki getting killed off -- I've never liked her -- but they should have found another way.
I love the Bennets (including Mr. Muggles), I love Ando because he says what any of us would in the same situations, I love seeing Tobolowsky on my screen every week, and I'm that lone contrarian who likes Parkman; I see enough Sean Blumberg in him that I still have hope. But I had many of the same issues with Lost -- the writers didn't seem to have a plan; the pacing was inconsistent at best; the episodes tended to focus on characters (Kate, mostly) I didn't care for; I gave it two seasons, it didn't pay off, and I booted it off the season-pass list and have never regretted it.
I'm willing to concede that, as Sepinwall mentions, this season of Heroes may have been timed oddly because of the looming strike, but that only explains the rushed quality at the end, not the lethally slow (and repetitive) episodes at the start of the season. Writing series TV isn't easy, God knows, but if you know you have 22 episodes and you know you have a certain arc you want to complete, it does seem like you might write to that task a bit better, and not make the same mistakes you made pacing-wise in the previous season.
But I'm getting the feeling that this is...just how the show is. Overly laborious set-ups; occasional sparks/twists in the middle; unsatisfying payoffs; too much focus on certain characters while others stay out of sight for episodes at a time. If you're going to kill off a Petrelli, you kill Peter, not Nathan, my God. Peter is self-righteous and super-slow on the uptake, for starters, and for another thing, and Adrian Pasdar is the man. Put that guy in a "you killed my brother, prepare to die" vengeance subplot and you're going to be cooking with gas all season long. Put Ventimiglia in the same one, and...not so much. He tries really hard, and he looks good with his shirt off, but he's not a nuanced actor, and if the pacing is going to be this slow, I need something else to interest me. He doesn't qualify.
It's so CLOSE, the show, which is why it's so frustrating, but when it comes back, it's got three episodes to show me it's learned its lesson, and then I'm out.
This new show is really appalling, and I'm not kidding. The one I DVRd the other day had Angie Harmon, and she's generally very likable also, but the two of them looked like complete idiots. They kept driving home the "this is a show for GIRLS, with GIRLS, who act like GIRLS" thing so hard that it seemed like they were afraid you'd forget what gender they were. When they told the story of how they met at a party and they both insisted that they immediately thought they'd be great friends (and presumably never caught up ever again), I had to turn it off. The "sexy bartender," the little frou-frou drinks for everyone, the atrocious monologue (whoever decided Stacy London should do a monologue should retire immediately)...it's all bad. All of it.
I mean, okay. Trista and Ryan. But that's out of fourteen attempts. You could throw fourteen emergency appendectomies on the F train, and you might get one marriage. This is no way to meet people. Can I experiment with fontifying?
The Bachelor is no way to meet people.
You have undoubtedly heard already about Brad, and how he's spent the last two weeks being called everything from a jerk to a sociopath (sociopath!) for choosing not to pursue a relationship with either of the two women he liked the most, out of 25 women he had no role in selecting. As has been fully explored over in our Bachelor thread to a point where we're all embarrassed to still care, you can certainly fault Brad for saying things he shouldn't have said, wanting to be the good guy, and so forth. But really, what Brad demonstrates is that there is no way for any relationship to start on this show except in stupidity.
If the guy likes the girl enough that it might actually work out between them, it's going to kill the relationship that (1) he has to date a gaggle of other girls at the same time; and (2) they're going to have to be separated for months during airing, during which time she gets to watch episodes in which he makes out with other women. If she doesn't care enough to be disturbed by that, she doesn't care.
But all this is beside the point, right? Don't the statistics prove it? If your dating service worked this well, you would be driven out of business in a state of abject shame. I call upon the producers of The Bachelor to quit. You are failures! You have failed! You are running a scam, and we are all onto you! We could do better setting up our friends, and we are no good at setting up our friends!
I'm just saying, if we were 0-for-11 at anything, we'd move on to another line of work. FOR SHAME.
The St. Petersburg Times's Eric Deggans on shows that seemed to have gone on strike before yesterday.
If this "Rosie gets a talk show on MSNBC" item has any truth to it, I'm going to go on strike.
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