overthinking the idiot box

May 22, 2006

Rejected Column Titles: "Kirk Wouldn't Stoop That Low", "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot," "Resistance is Futile," and "some sort of Locutus pun?" This one goes out to all the nerds in the hizz-ouse.

Holographic wow
Alison Joins in the Upfront Fun

by Alison Veneto

The upfronts have come to SMRT-TV and Holographic Wow did not want to be left out! But to start, let's take a look at the six network sci-fi shows from last year and their fates. First, the best of the bunch, Threshold (CBS) was cancelled a little while back. And so was the worst of the bunch, Night Stalker (ABC). But it wasn't until the upfronts release that we learned that Surface (NBC) and Invasion (ABC) would be joining them in the annals of history. Other freshman shows Supernatural (CW) and The Ghost Whisperer (CBS) have confirmed their spots on next season's schedule. Two out of six isn't too bad (although Supernatural has been moved to the slot of death — 9:00 on Thursdays). This year we seemingly have four new shows coming our genre-loving way — so mathematically you might assume that maybe one of them will actually stick around. The key is picking the right one...

The CW, that combination of two previously friendly sci-fi networks that once carried Buffy, Angel, Roswell, Charmed and Enterprise among others, has evidently decided that it has enough sci-fi with its Thursday night block of Supernatural and Smallville and is giving us nothing! I fully expect that next year, or possibly mid-season, they'll remember their glorious combined past as a haven for sweet instances of genre and bring us something we can enjoy.

And FOX is too busy thrilling you with one word titles (Standoff! Vanished! Justice!) to care that a decade ago it was the network so inundated with sci-fi that it hardly showed anything else.
And FOX is too busy thrilling you with one word titles (Standoff! Vanished! Justice!) to care that a decade ago it was the network so inundated with sci-fi that it hardly showed anything else.

But those formerly known as the 'big 3' networks are again taking a stab at our favorite genre in some truly strange ways. You can always count on NBC, ABC and CBS to put out a real sci-fi show and cancel it almost immediately or put out a really flat mainstream show with sci-fi elements and allow it to sit happily near the middle of the ratings grid to their relative satisfaction.

First we have Taye Digg's Groundhog Day...er...Day Break on ABC. I'm both surprised that no one has done this — repeating the same day every episode — and surprised that anyone would bother. I wonder how long they can pull this off before it becomes really dumb. I'm guessing 4 or 5 episodes. The tag line should be: You've seen one episode, you've seen them all!

Flipping the channels I might find Jericho, CBS's offering to sci-fi fans this year, which sounds a whole lot like an episode (really a couple episodes) of The Twilight Zone. Despite being a topic perhaps more timely in the 50s than now, a show like this that focuses on small town life torn apart after nuclear destruction leaves inhabitants wondering if they are all that's left, definitely could manage to ask interesting questions and have a lively discussion about small town America. But starring a gaggle of mediocre actors and being brought to me by the man who brought me National Treasure leaves me in doubt of its intellectual prospects. Versions of this concept worked great in hour-long episode form (how about that one where the small town gets paranoid about aliens — great ep!), but I think it may be difficult to sustain very well. There are only so many things that people can do to each other in these situations and then around February sweeps you'll have a twist where a stranger walks into town — who is he, what does he want — much like Lost's twist this year (with Henry Gail) and then they're simply out of material.

Been there, done that...
But NBC is working super hard to please the mainstream's inner nerd with more ideas ripped off from other places. Heroes finds people with superhuman abilities among us coming to terms with their fates and whatnot. If you've read a comic book in the past 20 years, or seen The Incredibles or Spider-man or have ever encountered the word 'superhero' in your life this will probably not be new to you. Which doesn't mean it can't be good, but it's only been a few days since the upfronts were released and this is already the most mocked show of the pack.

Starring some guys whose last shows recently got canceled like Milo Ventimiglia (The Bedford Diaries, Gilmore Girls) and Greg Grunberg (Alias) — neither of whom really scream superhero to me (I'm still having a hard time envisioning Milo as Rocky's son in the upcoming Rocky film) and sporting a multi-national cast they're clearly trying to grab on to the recent success of superheroes here. Still, it'll be a challenge for them to bring something new to a concept that there's nothing new to be brought to. Their best bet for sustainability is to create truly interesting characters. Still, Ali Larter playing a stripper in combination with the superhero concept is certain going to be enough to interest a certain class of geeks.

At least this time, it's a dude: talking to the dead to solve crimes had hitherto been a high rated female enterprise.
But after seemingly pilfering major plot elements of M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable for Heroes, they decided to also steal elements from his more successful film The Sixth Sense and came up with Raines — a show where a cop, presumably named 'Raines', talks to dead people. Because there aren't enough crime solvers talking to dead people on TV these days (although at least this time it's a dude: talking to the dead to solve crimes had hitherto been a high rated female enterprise), NBC decided to throw another into the mix.

But at least they're doing it with style. Raines is played by Jeff Goldblum, who is almost a sci-fi icon due to a couple uber-successful films in the mid-90s and his sidekick is the lord of all sidekicks Luis Guzman. The Goldblum-Guzman hour might be entertaining despite whatever tired concept. While I don't have much faith in the sci-fi aspects of this show actually being all that interesting to fans of the genre, from what I've heard there may be even more of these aspects than the concept lets on when it comes to the origin of Raines' abilities.

In conclusion, the consensus for now is that these concepts are seriously lacking in originality — but that doesn't always mean much. With good writing and characters even a tired concept can come to life. There's a lot of wait and see involved in these shows. So I'm waiting and we'll see...

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