Sunday, February 23, 2014

TV: What The Water Cooler Couldn't See

The Water Cooler Set rarely gets it.


Reading some e-mails Ty passed us, that was oh so obvious.  They don't get Star-Crossed, they don't get Almost Human, they don't get The Following.

And we're talking about always useless critics who should be a little more on their game since the Winter Olympics has meant very little new content from the networks.

The big winner may end up being The Originals which The CW aired repeatedly last week as it cycled up to the return on Tuesday night with fresh episodes.  The CW actually benefited from the Olympics.  There was a small group of new viewers sampling their programming in the last weeks (they also lost some core viewers who'd already seen the originally airing of their favorite CW shows and were watching the Olympics).  It'll be interesting to see how that works out come March.  10,000 new viewers, for example, would mean less to CBS but to The CW it's more than just building blocks as the netlette still struggles for viewers.

They aired one new show during the Olympics -- Star-Crossed debuted last week.

The series is about an alien race seeking asylum on earth only to discover hostility and suspicion. Instead of welcoming the new comers, they treat the Atrians like they're David Gest trying to crash an A-list party.

The aliens are attacked and one is sent on the run by his father.  Roman, the young boy, ends up at a home where young Emery is attempting to speak to her parents who are more interested in the events on the TV about the aliens.  She, and only she, senses something is up and goes out to a shed or detached garage where she finds young Roman shivering and scared.  She steps away and then returns minutes later with a blanket.  The next morning, she brings him pasta which he begins eating moments before US authorities storm in and shoot Roman.

That's the prologue and a jump cut takes us to ten years later.  Emery (Aimee Teegarden) is now a teenager.  She's leaving the hospital where her best friend Julia (Malese Jow) remains.  Emery's suffered some health disorder and spent four years in the hospital.  With it in remission or cured, she's now released but Jules isn't so lucky and remains hospitalized.

Emery's first day finds Lukas (Titus Makin Jr.) showing her around.  Lukas is a friend and, strangely, the only African-American in the school and only the second one in the cast.  For a show that's addressing issues of race and racism via the aliens and the way earthlings treat them, the cast is shockingly White bread.  Even the aliens with speaking roles appear to be all White -- though one woman playing what can only be a galactic stereotype of a Romanian gypsy may pass for 'ethnic.'

Lukas is probably meant to come off as some sort of Willow and Xander (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) but the difference there is that they were given funny and unique lines.  With Lukas end noting and foot noting who is who and the layout of the school, he's much less interesting and more like The Love Boat's Julie McCory showing passengers the Lido Deck or, that early forerunner of Google Glass, the Terminator's eyes in Terminator II.  Since Makin can grab your attention, it would be really great if the writers could turn Lukas into an actual character and not just an exposition device.

As Lukas shows Emery around, her first day of high school is also the first day for the Atrians.

Or at least seven of them.

The Atrians have been tossed into a fenced in concentration camp that is patrolled regularly (one of the guards is Emery's father).

But now a small number of them are going to leave the camp to attend high school as what is billed as an attempt to improve relations.  Gloria Garcia is over the program and an earthling who is billed as Director of the Atrian Relations Committee.

Gloria is played by the other cast member of color, Victoria Gabrielle Platt.

She's no-nonsense and makes it clear to Roman that if he screws up her program -- intentionally or not -- he will be cut adrift and she won't give him a second thought.

That's right, Roman is here  The young boy that Emery hid and fed.

Roman (Matt Lanter) immediately recognizes Emery.  She doesn't recognize him until later when she and Julia sneak into the Atrian camp because Julia's not getting better and she's heard of a plant the Atrians have that supposedly has miracle healing powers.

In the camp, they encounter the stereotypical gypsy and a con artist ready to rip them off but Roman saves them and takes them to a rooftop garden he and his father have.  There Julia finds the plant, it's saffron, Roman explains.  Dejected momentarily, Julia goes off to marvel at the view of the city the rooftop garden has while Roman and Emery speak and she realizes who he is and explains that she thought he died ten years ago when he was shot.

He didn't die.  And that might or might not have been to the healing powers of the plant.  Julia is not getting well.  She tells Emery that she was happy to have the adventure.  But when Emery and Lukas attend a party a group of Atrians crash with Roman on their heels trying to prevent any altercation, Emery gets the news that Julia is dying.

She rushes to the hospital and doesn't know Roman's followed her.  He waits outside and when Emery steps out for a moment, he steps in and uses his own blood and the saffron flower to save Julia.  Emery will realize he's done that when she sees the flower on the floor by Julia's bed.

To get to the party, Roman has to get out of the compound.  How?  They wear devices and there's a curfew.  Roman, the son of the Atrian's leader, is not as savvy to the Atrian underground as the ones attending the party but he figures out enough to get what's basically a three hour pass.

The Atrians went to the party because they were sick of Roman's sister and others being picked on by the earthlings.

With the exception of Lukas and Julia, Emery encounters no teenager that's even slightly likable (for example, her date dumps her when the cops are raiding the party). The earth male teens all appear to have been cloned from Anthony Michael Hall's Edward Scissorhands character and have the animosity towards Atrians that Hall's character had towards Edward.

The point being, it would be nice if Emery was falling in love with Roman because of how amazing he is but, instead, a strong argument can be made that she falls for him just because teen earth males are so disgusting.

There's a lot that doesn't work in the pilot and we've noted some of it above.

None of that matters.

When Roman looks at Emery, you believe.

They're the star-crossed lovers.  You have to believe their passion for one another.

That's the most important ingredient of the show and if it's not there there is no show.

Lanter and Teegarden have chemistry.

If the show can fine tune the surrounding details, it will become a big hit for The CW.

The Following airs on Fox.

Last season, it worked.

This season it's a mess.

Short of a miracle, it's an unfixable mess.

The ratings are down.

But worse, the show is just disgusting.

It always verged on that because horror and glorifying a serial killer at the same time are a dangerous mix.

Kevin Bacon's performance is thinner this season.  It's as though he's going through the motions.  The bad scripts are partly responsible.

His character Ryan is haunted by the killings of Joe Carroll.

Which might seem interesting or intriguing except for the fact that last season opened with Ryan being  . . . haunted by the killings of Joe Carroll.

He doesn't seem more haunted, just dull.  And he's delivering his worst acting since Quicksilver or possibly Guiding Light.

It's not Bacon's fault, the scripts are embarrassments.

But even were the scripts better, the show still wouldn't work.

In many ways, The Following last season was always like staring at a dirty toilet but that's only more the case now that Joe Carroll's ex-wife Claire is dead.  Natalie Zea was the element that redeemed the show.

The actress' beauty and her ability to deliver bereavement transcended the show.  Tears almost spilling from her hypnotic eyes added layers the script didn't and came the closest to art  the Fox schedule ever saw.

Claire wasn't just Joe Carroll's terrorized ex-wife, she was also in love with Ryan and her presence gave Ryan meaning.

With her gone, Ryan's a nothing, going through the motions we saw last season but with less purpose and less feeling.

An e-mail noted The Water Cooler Set 'critic' who, last week, explained that The Following was a sure thing for renewal but Almost Human was going to get the axe.

Who does or doesn't get the axe is based on many things and we wouldn't make a prediction with regards to Fox because none of its moves ever make sense.  King of the Hill was a hilarious show, for example, which still delivered ratings.  They gave it the axe to do three shows from Seth MacFarlane.  Seth is talented.  But three shows with the same jokes, the same points of view, all on the same night?

Of course it was going to bomb.  The Cleveland Show (cancelled) was the weakest of the bunch.  But American Dad wasn't any better.  The only time that show worked was when it emphasized Hayley and Roger.  Otherwise, it was the exact same show as Family Guy and The Cleveland Show and why watch the same show three times in one night -- especially when Seth's shows don't reflect life as much as they rip off movies everyone's seen?

Fox ran off viewers with that comedy block.  Not only is The Cleveland Show thankfully gone but American Dad moves to basic cable at the end of this season.  Family Guy will return on Fox next season along with Seth's attempt to do a Latino animated show.  Since Seth is not Latino and the only Latino character of note his shows have ever offered is the maid Consuela, Fox is nervous.

As they should be.  Consuela isn't just an insulting stereotype from an all Anglo White team of writers, she's also voiced by a White Anglo male.

This could be the career death of Seth.  He flirted with that moment already when he killed off Brian earlier this season to the dismay of Family Guy viewers only to bring Brian back after he'd f**ked with them for a few weeks.

Now his Anglo White self thinks he can 'speak' for or to the Latino community?

If this is done poorly or comes off insulting, the backlash could send Seth off network television for good.

A network that was stupid enough to take their only successful night that didn't depend on a talent show and turn it over to Seth, a man that even they had censored (for example, they refused to air the abortion episode)?  A network like that is pretty much impossible to predict.

But the 'critic' a reader e-mailed about declared Almost Human would get the axe because it wasn't delivering ratings the way, the 'critic' insisted, The Following was.

The 'critic' is right that last week's episode of Almost Human was viewed by 5.35 viewers.  But that was still more people that watched the next hour on Fox: The Following.

Every week since The Following returned on Monday nights, Almost Human has had more viewers.  And 5.35 has been its lowest rating thus far while The Following has already had a week this season where it delivered 4.76 million viewers.

The first episode of the season, the only one with Claire (she died), delivered 11 million viewers.  To go from 11 million at the start of your second season to less than five million?

That's the sort of thing that gets you cancelled on a real network.

Maybe not on Fox.

Almost Human is actually a great show and it's doing very well in the ratings -- especially when you add in that the episodes are being aired out of order.

Season two wouldn't allow for that, the network would have to air in order.

That's because this Bad Robot production is like others such as Fringe and Alias, it's a continuing show.

People didn't get that with the bulk of Fringe's first season.  And they're not getting it for the most part with this first season.  That's partly because JJ Abrams and company are doing their usual bit of lulling you in.  You think you're watching a show with no long term elements.  That's not the case.

Already, viewers are becoming aware that over the wall, outside of where the show is set, there's a very interesting land.  It's off the grid and where guest-star John Larroquette vanished to.  They're also realizing he did something with Dorian when he created him.

Dorian (Michael Ealy) is the robot who assists Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban).  Lili Taylor's Captain Sandra Maldonado supervises everyone.  Larroquette is Dr. Nigel Vaughn who created the androids and who was removed from his position by law enforcement when a series of his drones ended up being killer ones.

Dorian is special.  There's something Vaughn did with Dorian that makes him special.  He most likely gave Dorian his dead son's soul or memories or both.  But even more than that, he's likely made Dorian a Trojan horse.

Ealy and Urban have a nice chemistry.  That's important because John could come off a total dickhead if it weren't for Dorian.  In the pilot, John shoots 'dead' an android that gets on his nerves.  By contrast, he's genuinely grown fond of Dorian and is seriously worried when something goes wrong.  John's haunted by a love betrayed and he lost his leg as a result of the betrayal.  He started off loathing his artificial leg but, as with his acceptance of Dorian, he's become accustomed to the change.

Lili Taylor is Lili Taylor.  We mean that as a compliment.  Taylor's bringing so much to a role that could otherwise be only slightly more memorable than Captain Harold C. Dobey on Starsky and Hutch.  Taylor's agent should market her as Script Helper, add Lili and stand back.

Almost Human is a tight drama whose long running elements have yet to be recognized.  It's delivered ratings and they're about a million lower than Sleepy Hollow as it wound down season one.  So if Sleepy Hollow's a hit (it will have a second season), it's pretty hard to argue Almost Human is a ratings flop.

It's less difficult to argue that The Following is a flop.  It's season low of 4.76 million this month was also its series low.  Season two has seen the show fail to deliver its season one audience.

Again, with Fox, who knows what they'll do.

But if you're going to scream 'bad ratings!' at Almost Human, you can't pretend that the lower rated The Following is a hit.  And, on most networks, a second season of a show that does this poorly would mean the second season was the last season.

Next fall may be a time of rebuilding for Fox or just an endless struggle.  By contrast, The CW seems to be finally finding its footing.  You didn't read that elsewhere because The Water Cooler Set rarely sees what's right before it.

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