On Friday night, we will once again mark the autumnal equinox, officially kicking off the most beautiful season in much of the United States (and the first day of Spring for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere).
Not only does Fall mean changing leaves and a crispness in the air, but it is high tide for Pop Culture. The new season begins on television; prestige movies fill the theaters; the King of American sports eclipses events that would rule any other time of the year; the 2012 election moves into a matter of months; bands try to cash in on the iTunes gift certificate redemption season. Three months of Fall normally hold more goodies than the other three seasons combined.
So this week, we’ll examine the menu and whet our appetite for what’s to come.
Even though it’s lost some importance, the Fall season still produces the bulk of television programming for the year. Whether that includes the bulk of good television isn’t exactly clear. Coming out with a seven-day, three-hour slate of shows with traditional commercial breaks and 24-week schedules seems a bit retarded in this day and age, but the networks still do it.
Let’s take a look at three questions this leaves us with.
1.) Where does the current NBC Thursday Night comedy lineup rank on the all-time list, as far as…
a.) The strongest two shows ever?
It may have had its ups and downs, but NBC has an almost thirty-year run of relevancy for their Thursday night block of comedies. But rarely has it been based on a solid slate. The Cosby Show and Cheers served time with A Different World and Wings, Friends and Seinfeld had to cover for The Single Guy and Suddenly Susan. The conventional wisdom may be that NBC’s dominance has come and gone, but right now, two underrated comedies are heading into their prime.
Both Community and Parks and Recreation are around the 50 episode mark. Normally, this is the prime for sitcoms. Their ratings may pale in comparison to their predecessors, but there’s a chance for them to set the bar for quality. Their competition:
3.) 1985-’86: Family Ties, Season Four (the Alex and Ellen season) and Cheers, Season Four (the first Woody season).
2.) 1995-’96: Friends, Season Two (the first non-monkey season) and Seinfeld, Season Seven (the last Larry David season).
1.) 1984-’85: The Cosby Show, Season One (the breakout season) and Cheers, Season Three (the last Coach season).
A hard list to break into, but Community and Parks and Recreation at least have an outside chance.
b.) The worst show ever?
Please, allow me to throw myself on a grenade for you… don’t let my soul die in vain. I will never be the same after watching the first episode of Whitney… save yourself.
Whitney takes the worst parts of Sex in the City and Two and a Half Men and performs them in front of studio audience high on nitrous oxide. While it’s too early to say, there’s a good chance it could be the worst show ever in the Thursday lineup, one of those shows that make you yearn for the days of Boston Public and My Name Is Earl. It does have some stiff competition, though:
3.) 1994-’95: Madman of the People. Does Dabney Coleman have one more comeback left in him? No, oh god, no.
2.) 1999-2000: Daddio. What did Michael Chiklis do between The Commish and The Shield? Tried to kill comedy forever.
1.) 2008-’09: Kath & Kim. America’s decided… we really, really, really don’t want to spend a half-hour a week with Molly Shannon and Selma Blair.
Good luck, Whits! I know you can do it.
2.) Is there any reason to watch an hour-long drama on one of the Big Four networks ever again?
The finale of Lost may have done more than just dashed hopes about the island meaning anything. It may have also been the last network show that it was necessary to watch follow weekly.
I’ve sampled some of the new options. Some are awful (even stoned, I couldn’t make the half-hour mark of The Playboy Club and Charlie’s Angels). Some, like Person of Interest and Prime Suspect, have potential (even though both pilots had a hackneyed “where were you on 9/11” plot point). But even the decent network shows are all procedurals at this point. Listen, I know procedurals can be good… I’ll put my Law & Order knowledge up against anybody. But TV dramas have proven they can be more substantial, and if I’m looking for empty calories, I’m hanging with Snooki or Dr. Drew.
The conventions that commercials make necessary (the four-act structure, the need to reintroduce the situation after every break), added to the networks need to grab as many first-run viewers as possible, have made network dramas very, very tired. So in a season that features the return of Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead, and the introduction of Hell On Wheels (which essentially happens every season of the year), it would take something damn compelling to bump a network drama up in my queue.
Will the networks find that breakout female star they’re obviously searching for?
We’re already touched on Whitney… regretfully, you can get a double dose, because Cummings created 2 Broke Girls on CBS as well. While marginally better than Whitney, it makes clear that Cummings stopped watching television comedy the year Night Court went off the air. And that her management doesn’t have much faith in her staying power, since they allowed her to split her focus between two shows heading for icebergs.
Another effort, Up All Night, has some potential. The problem is that it’s too obviously calling plays from the Modern Family book… it’s basically, what were Phil and Claire like when they had Haley? But, Christina Applegate might have finally found the right role Hopefully, the show will move its focus from her marriage with Will Arnett to her workplace relationship with Maya Rudolph. Both parts of the show are good, but the balance needs to shift.
Finally, there is someone who seems destined to be the breakout star. She was there all along. She was adorable, but got annoying if we hung out with her for too long. She has intelligence and musical ability, but not as much as she thinks. She has plenty of energy to keep us interested for a half-hour, but wears us out enough to need a break. Ladies and gentlemen, Zooey Deschanel.
Overall, The New Girl is just O.K. But, if Deschanel continues to bring it like she did in the pilot, she’ll buy them time to find a groove.