Monday, July 19, 2010

Introduction, and Summer TV Roundup

Hi, I’m Derek. By trade, I’m a writer and editor, although I also have a law degree and license. I’ve written about baseball for Baseball Prospectus and on the Bombers Broadside annuals, and I’ve also written about baseball and whatever else strikes my fancy over at my web site, The Weblog that Derek Built. Thaddeus--my brother, and the proprietor of this site--has invited me to share my thoughts about cinema here, so I’m glad to join the Net-Flixation family.

And of course, since my invitation here is to write about movies, I’m going to start out with television reviews. It’s not my fault, really. One of my twin boys has been suffering a bit of insomnia, so I’ve been stuck rocking him back to sleep night after night. Needing something to keep me from getting bored to death--and not wanting to commit the time to watch a movie--I’ve gotten some quality (and sometimes not-so-quality) time with the new shows of the summer season. Here goes:

Rizzoli & Isles

The Twist: The genius cop drama is still a hot genre, so here we’re splitting that into two characters, cop (Detective Rizzoli, played by Angie Harmon) and genius (Medical Examiner Isles, played by Sasha Alexander). And they’re chicks! And the commercial for the series has them prominently flopping into bed together, so there’s the possibility that they’re lipstick lesbian life partners!

The Quirks: There’s probably a chapter in one of Robert McKee’s writing guides on this called “Shortcuts to Character.” Quirks are the little details that are supposed to make a fictional character seem like a real person: Michael Westen’s fondness for yogurt, Raylan Givens’s stetson, that kind of stuff. Here, Rizzoli’s a tomboy who plays basketball with her brother, and Isles is a girly-girl braniac with a penchant for spouting non-sequitur trivia. Really weak non-sequitur trivia.

Local Flavor: Another way that TV series have differentiated themselves in recent years was through the choice of atypical locales--think Justified’s Harlan County, Kentucky or Saving Grace’s Oklahoma City, rather than the usual New York-Los Angeles-Chicago big city settings. Rizzoli & Isles is set in Boston, which so far, just means that the opening credits music is an uptempo Irish jig. Has any series (other than Cheers) ever done Boston justice? Neither lead attempts a New England accent, which is probably for the best.

In the Background, You’ll Recognize: Lorraine Bracco, who looks like Goodfellas was way more than 20 years ago, plays Rizzoli’s mom, and Bruce McGill is Rizzoli’s ex-partner/extremely paternal boss.

The Skinny: Supposedly, the Rizzoli & Isles pilot drew 7.6 million viewers, making it one of the biggest cable debuts ever. We’ll see how many of them return, since the show those 7.6 million people saw was not very good. The episode was a walking cliche, from the Serial Killer with a History with One of Our Heroines, to the Serial Killer Prison Visit (a trope that should have been retired after Donald Sutherland’s awesome turn in Backdraft), and on through a standard Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse conclusion. Plus, it turns out that Rizzoli and Isles aren’t actually lesbian life partners, they’re just heterosexual BFFs with a lesbian subtext, so there’s absolutely nothing distinguishing this from all the other procedurals out there.

Chances I’ll Keep Watching: Intentionally? None. However, it does run after The Closer, so there’s a chance it’ll get a second viewing by accident.

The Glades

The Twist: It’s on A&E, rather than USA or TNT. Other than that, we’ve got a loner genius cop who’s been exiled from his usual stomping grounds (Chicago) and is made to ply his trade in a new setting (small town in Florida, presumably near the Everglades).

The Quirks: Detective Jim Longsworth (played by Aussie Matt Passmore) plays golf with his Medical Examiner buddy Carlos (Hispanic “that guy” Carlos Gomez). By the way: any idea where I send the Sports Guy his residual for use of the term “that guy”?

Local Flavor: The pilot exploits both beach and wetlands locales, and we learn that Caymans aren’t indigenous to Florida.

In the Background, You’ll Recognize: Probably nobody other than Gomez.

The Skinny: We’ve seen genius cops before, we’ve seen cocky geniuses before, but we’ve never seen anyone quite as smug as Longsworth. It seems like his face is permanently frozen into a smirk of superiority. He spends the entire episode bragging: he tells one suspect that “there’s nothing about homicide I don’t know or can’t figure out” at another point, he taunts his not-genius partner “I’m a much better cop than you are.” The weird thing is, it’s completely unearned--nothing he does in the pilot really seems all that special.

Chances I’ll Keep Watching: Haven’t watched A&E since Biography’s heyday, not much of a shot that The Glades will make me change that policy.

Memphis Beat

The Twist: Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee) is a Memphis cop, with music in his soul and a complicated romantic history.

The Quirks: After a hard day of policing, Dwight spends his evenings singing Elvis tunes in a nightclub.

Local Flavor: There might not be another show on TV that’s as focused on its locale. However it is, according to IMDB, actually shot in New Orleans. Confusing, no?

In the Background, You’ll Recognize: DJ Qualls, as a bumbling uniform cop.

The Skinny: Didn’t catch the pilot of this one, but the vibe of the episode I saw was more whimsical than procedural. Lee--who between this and My Name is Earl seems to be the TV’s default Southerner (despite actually being SoCal born and bred)--gives Memphis Beat a welcoming presence at its center. Sadly, though, it’s stuck in an odd dramedy space where there aren’t enough laughs for a comedy or enough tension for a drama.

Chance I’ll Keep Watching: It’s a pleasant enough way to waste an hour if you’re at the doctor’s office, but I can’t imagine tuning in regularly.

Covert Affairs

The Twist: Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) is a new recruit to the CIA. Fresh out of the...what, academy? Walker is thrown headlong into the world of international intrigue.

The Quirks: Annie’s a thrill seeker who skydives and speaks many languages--things that aren’t so quirky for a spy.

Local Flavor: Spy shows are supposed to be the opposite of local--part of the appeal is that spies go to exotic places to ply their trade. In the pilot, however, Toronto sits in for Washington DC, and a beach (it could be any beach, anywhere) subs for Sri Lanka.

In the Background, You’ll Recognize: The supporting cast is stronger than most new cable dramas, with Peter Gallagher as Annie’s boss’s boss, and Anne Dudek (of House fame) as Annie’s sister who has no idea she’s a spy.

The Skinny: It’s not a cop show--that, all by itself--gives it a foot up on the competition. Sadly, cop shows aren’t the only derivative vehicle out there: everything about Covert Affairs screams Alias at us, right down to the lead, who looks like Jennifer Garner’s shorter cousin. However it seems to be Alias with considerably less style (a bad thing) and fewer fanciful elements (possibly a good thing). There are some promising traces of overarching storylines--a mole in the CIA, a mysterious man from Annie’s past--and the show’s creators have a good pedigree with Doug Liman of the Bourne films. Then again, the production company was also involved in the 2008 Knight Rider reboot, so things could break either way.

Chance I’ll Keep Watching: I’ll give this a second chance, but things could go south in a hurry.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Chime in!