Monday, January 22, 2018

TV: Returns of the season

Returns can be difficult.  One of the most infamous returns followed the Moldavian Massacre.  ABC's mega-hit DYNASTY ended season five with a wedding in Moldavia, a wedding that terrorists shot up leaving, in the last seconds of the show, every cast member (except Michael Nader, Heather Locklear and 1/2 of Linda Evans) lying on the ground in pools of blood.

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The cliffhanger became the most talked of cliffhanger of the year and only "Who shot J.R.?" rivaled it as a cliffhanger.  But the thing about epic cliffhangers?

They can be very hard to return from.

In DYNASTY's case, it shouldn't have been such a huge let down with the season six premiere.  But the producers wanted to play hardball with Joan Collins (easily the show's biggest draw) and she didn't show for the taping of that episode.  No Alexis was bad.

Worse was the dead.

In an episode with a violent cliffhanger, never tell an existing character that it's over and you're leaving after the wedding.  Lady Ashley (Ali MacGraw) ends up dead.

If you're a minor character in a same-sex relationship and your partner tells you that you two will get married right after this wedding, look out.  Luke Fuller (Billy Campbell) ends up dead.

The whole cast (except for two and a half cast members) shot up and the only ones dead are two minor characters -- one on for fourteen episodes, the other for nineteen?

They could have focused more (and should have) on Heather Locklear's Sammy Jo who wasn't at the wedding and was busy creating a con with Krystal look-alike Rita (both Krystal and Rita were played by Linda Evans).  With Joan Collins not there and the dead amounting to little more than two extras, Sammy Jo and Rita should have been the whole episode.

Instead, they tried to come back.  And in real time.

And helped destroy the series in the process.

Since then, some have learned.

November and December saw winter finales.

We're now seeing some shows return.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER picked up in real time from their winter finale.  And managed to do so with a tightly focused episode that resolved some questions but raised even more.  Viola Davis anchored the episode as Annalise.  Rebecca's compared Viola's work in the episode to Jane Fonda's Academy Award winning performance in KLUTE.  We agree.  Some of her finest movements were dialogue free.  And the entire cast did an excellent job.

Another return that was well handled was THE BLACKLIST.  Is Tom really dead?  Please, say it isn't so.  But the show chose to return via Elizabeth (Megan Boone) off in a secluded area, far from Red (James Spader) and the FBI.  She's dealing with her grief over Tom's death and ends up forced back into reality since she attracts misfortune the way the Bush family attracts crime.  It was a strong return that avoided the real time, pick up where the last scene of the finale left off.

GRACE AND FRANKIE also returned well.  They jumped months ahead to after Frankie (Lily Tomlin) moved off with Jacob (Ernie Hudson).  She's returned because one of her sons (Baron Vaughn's Bud) is about to become a father.  She's not happy to observe that Grace (Jane Fonda) has a new roommate (Lisa Kudrow's Sherree) or that life's gone on without her.  More importantly, she no longer feels unique and wants to come home.  It was a funny and sharp opening.  And a reminder that you don't have to pick up from the very last minute.

Not every return was so successful.

MARVEL AGENTS OF SHIELD was just confusing.  You might be mid-way through the episode before you grasped what was going on -- with the constant time shifting.  But then that show has never known how to plot a season.  Worse was FREE FORM's BEYOND.  An engaging series returned with two episodes and mainly left you confused as to what was going on, what had happened, where you were  and did anything from last season matter?

As bad as both of those were, they had nothing on SCANDAL which easily wins as the worst return of this season.  The winter finale, for those who've forgotten, had Olivia (Kerry Washington) going to her father's home (Joe Morton plays her father).  He wanted his bones back -- the dinosaur he's been putting together.  He had told Olivia that he would kill Quinn (Katie Lowes) if she didn't give him back his bone.  Olivia, who had reasons to want Quinn to shut up (lest the president find out that Olivia killed the president's love interest), said no deal.  Her father left the room and we heard gunshots.

When we pick up, Quinn is dead.  As the episode concludes, we learn that she somehow delivered a baby while she was kidnapped and before she was killed.  Charlie (George Newbern) discovers the baby at Eli "Rowan" Pope's home.

The episode was largely meaningless.

Outside of Guillermo Diaz's Huck, no one moved you or really seemed torn.  Charlie has the excuse of shock, Quinn disappeared on her wedding day.  No one else had that excuse.  And no one but Guillermo deserved praise for their acting.

The absolute worst part of it?

Quinn.  They used her death to manipulate us and remember how angry viewers were when FAMILY GUY killed off Brian?  And how they felt even more used and manipulated when it was all a big f-you to viewers?

Yeah, that's the sort of cheap tactics that SCANDAL resorted to.

There are ways to return and, all these years after MTM turned every genre of TV into a 'continuing drama' (soap opera), you'd think the show runners and networks would have learned.

But when do they ever?

For example, last week also saw another extreme case of Whitewashing or Whiteface: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Welsh woman, playing Griselda Blanco in COCAINE GODMOTHER.  That's right, there's nothing Latina about her but she's playing a Latina.  It's as though it was suddenly 1940 again and the Danish Gale Sondergaard is playing the Eurasian Mrs. Hammond in THE LETTER.  Hint to LIFETIME and to Catherine, when the lead is Latina, you hire a Latina to play the role.  Yes, that might deprive us from seeing Catherine star in such future projects as EDGING AND ORGASM: THE JOYCELN ELDERS STORY and NAGAKO KOJUN: FROM PRINCESS TO EMPRESS but, not only will we live, we'll also be a lot better off as a result.

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