Sunday, August 31, 2014

TV: The pilots

Amazon wants you to help them pick their next show.

Of course they do, they didn't do too well picking last season's crop, did they?

Alpha House was supposed to set the word on fire but received only slightly average reviews and no buzz at all.

How bad does a show starring only men have to be to be ignored by the Water Cooler Set?

Pretty damn bad.

And Alpha House is.

So it doesn't take a lot to improve over last year's crop.

In fact, the main titles for Hysteria are already heads and tails above last year's effort at sci fi which promised, should the pilot get a series order from Amazon, they'd fill the special effects scenes in.  And Whit Stillman's The Cosmopolitians features Joan Osborne singing the theme song, her 2007 cover of "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted."

Let's start with that show because it's unique, one-of-a-kind and what TV could really use.

It's a wry and amusing pilot which has about five rhythms going on at once -- a hallmark in Stillman's previous work.

Stillman is one of the great directors to emerge in the independent film movement before it was co-opted by the Weinsteins.  Other great film makers who emerged during that era include Allison Anders, Spike Lee, Robert Rodriguez, Rose Troche, Lana and Andy Wachowskis, Kimberly Peirce, and Kevin Smith.  We don't include Quentin Tarantino on the list.  He does his Warner Brothers cartoons very well, we just don't mistake them for art.  We also note that the film makers we listed?  They've had epic battles with studios, they have suffered and fought for their art.

Quentin?  Every step has been smoothed over by the Weinsteins.  He is their product.  They repeatedly save his work by insisting he reshoot, he recast, he edit this or that.  In fact, the robotic feel to so many of his films can be explained by the fact that he basically does what the Weinstein's tell him -- he's a more of a directing program than a director.

Someone with more talent and ambition would be Steven Soderbergh, a true artist.  And like Stillman, he emerges early on in the era.  He's changed film more than he's ever been credit for -- there would be no Tarantino if Sodenberg hadn't re-invented film dialogue to begin with.  We're huge fans.

But we're puzzled by Red Oaks, the pilot Soderbergh produces.

It's not a bad pilot.

Paul Reiser plays an ass and he's perfect for and in the role.  He's funny, everyone is.  Jennifer Grey probably walks away with all the laughs.

But what's the point?

Does Amazon -- does anyone -- really need a sitcom set in the eighties about a White teen in college working at a country club?

It's well done but it's nothing we haven't seen before many times and probably was best done by Gary Marshall with The Flamingo Kid.

And does anyone need Really?

No offense to Sarah Chalke or Selma Blair but weren't they bothered by the dated premise?

Fat man, skinny wife?

Really goes all out on the formula by having two fat men (one of whom has bigger boobs than his wife, as his young daughter points out) and two skinny women.

Even worse than the tired genre is the tone.

We've broken old habits of unhealthy vice,
We now eat fresh seaweed and short-grained brown rice;
We've cleared out our cupboards, threw out those stale rolls,
By planting a garden, we've cleaned up our souls
"Organic," written by Patty Hall

Patty Hall's song gently skewers 'we.'  But there's nothing gentle or informed about Really where the four leads all play smug characters who really believed they've cleaned up their souls.

"I voted for Romney," a young outsider says to the group and they look like they want to die.

The smugness and superiority grows tired real damn quick.

Worse than a bunch of overweight Peter Pans would be Hand of God which appears to exist solely to ask the question if there's anything Dana Delany won't stoop too?

She seemed like such a talented actress on China Beach but would a talented actress have been repeatedly upstaged by a supporting character.  Yes, the supporting character, KC, was played by Marg Helgenberger who is an acting miracle.  But Dana had the focus of each episode and the best written scenes.  Still Marg walked away with the show.

Dana followed up China Beach with the film Exit to Eden in which she played a character who spanked Paul Mercurio but whose heart really wasn't in it.

America did not feel her pain and the film flopped.

Which is the story of all of Dana's films except for Housesitter, the Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin comedy.

Most of her post-China Beach work has been bad TV.  Body of Proof offered her a change of pace and a bit of quality for two seasons -- sadly, the show ran for three.

Delany destroyed the show.

Having a hit show wasn't enough for Delany who didn't enjoy certain things about the show.  She didn't, for example, like that audiences loved Nicholas Bishop so she got behind firing him after the second season.  She wanted more than Bishop fired, she wanted Jeri Ryan fired as well. The producers were ready to go along with that -- ABC was not willing to fire Ryan.

So the producers just sidelined Jeri's character for all but one episode, the sixth one, "Fallen Angel."  Also known as the highest rated episode of season three.

When Delany was filming China Beach, Ron Perlman was making CBS' Beauty and the Beast with Linda Hamilton.  He and Delany team up to make Deathwish with a religious twist.

There is no reason for this show to exist and you'd have to be ethically corrupt or unable to be hired for any other role to join the cast of this trash.

Which brings us back to Hysteria.

This is the one that succeeds.

Series lead Mena Suvari, is paired with an interesting concept and a script that hints as opposed to babbles.

In the pilot, Dr. Logan Harlan leaves Houston for Austin  as a result of a possible outbreak which she believes is spread by empathy.  While Hand Of God has the dated look of an LA Law episode, Hysteria has a unique visual that results in arresting and haunting images.  Otto Bathurst directed the pilot and we really feel his work earned a mention.  (TV is a producer's medium.)

Laura San Giacomo, James McDaniel, Josh Stuart, TR Knight, Asjha Cooper are part of an amazing and interesting cast of a series that could actually involve viewers.  Which is why we're sure Amazon will pass on Hysteria and instead go with the tired and offensive Hand of God.

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