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TV to get excited about – new season preview 26 August 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in TV news.
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Traditionally the autumn/winter months sees a break in the American football season in the States, and with it a whole raft of new and returning sci-fi shows premiering their new series on the goggle box. In terms of high quality genre TV, the 2000s has seen its fair share of hits and misses with some cancelled in their prime (Firefly) and others drawn out way beyond their expected lifespan (Smallville), but one thing’s for sure – with production values that outstrip many Hollywood efforts and intelligent, gripping storytelling, viewers have rarely had it better.

Unfortunately to make room for all these new shows those which are seen to be underperforming or (as in the case of Battlestar Gallactica) which reach the end of their planned arcs are cancelled. As well as Battlestar Gallactica this year saw the planned conclusion to Stargate Atlantis (to make room for Stargate Universe – more later) and the premature deaths of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Pushing Daises, Reaper, Eleventh Hour, Eli Stone, the ill-advised Knight Rider re-boot, Kyle XY, the US Life on Mars and Primeval in the UK. While most were understandable and welcome cancellations The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Pushing Daisies were a particular blow to genre fans as, despite ‘low’ ratings, both were critically well received and ended on mesmerizing cliffhangers that begged for another series.

But what have we got to look forward to over the coming year? In terms of returning shows there was the surprise renewal of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse despite having the lowest viewing figures ever for a renewed programme, Fox perhaps showing faith in Whedon after the Firefly debacle and a noticeable improvement in quality from season one’s mid-point. There’s also big hitters Lost and Heroes (the former reaching the end of its planned six season arc and the latter presumably on its last legs), A Town Called Eureka, Fringe, Chuck making a surprise return, Smallville looking darker than ever, Supernatural bringing the plight of the Winchester brothers to a dramatic conclusion, True Blood which is enjoying considerable success in the States and of course new episodes of Doctor Who.

New properties on the cards however look to be a mixed bag. Ronald D. Moore’s promising looking spaceship drama Virtuality looks like it won’t make it past the pilot, but Battlestar Gallactica prequel Caprica has been given a full season to expand after its feature-length backdoor pilot debuted to critical acclaim earlier this year. It’s good to see at least one intelligent sci-fi show left on the box in a season of largely consisting of gimmick driven action shows. The small screen re-make of 80s classic V is one to look out for, however, starring Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell and Firefly’s Morena Baccarin in the tale of alien visitors whose friendly exteriors mask a terrible secret. The remake machine isn’t limited to old TV shows either with Eastwick being an adaptation of the Jack Nicholson film from the 80s, but with a worrying whiff of Charmed about it.

I’ll be surprised if Day One makes it to day two as yet another post-apocalypse set series so soon after Jericho’s failure to pick up viewers looks unlikely to become a sleeper hit. Human Target is probably the most low key of the new season’s shows with nary a dollar spent on publicity despite starring Rorscach and Freddy Kruger himself Jackie Earle Haley. The premise also sounds disappointingly flat – body guard assumes the identity of his clients to protect them – to arouse much interest.

Most promising looking new properties have to go to Warehouse 13, Flash Forward and Stargate Universe. Warehouse 13 is enjoying record breaking viewing figures on the Syfy channel in the states, but time will tell if this blend of the X Files and Supernatural will live beyond its Raiders of the Lost Arc inspired premise. Flash Forward has a high concept starting point (everyone in the world simultaneously sees six months into their own future for two and a half minutes) that gives little indication of what the series has in store, but with a cast including Brit Joseph Fiennes and co-created by Blade scribe David S. Goyer I have high hopes. Stargate Universe on the other hand looks like the dark, character driven re-boot the series was crying out for, abandoning the shiny military bases for a bleak space ship setting and throwing Begbie into the mix for good measure (hopefully with random acts of psychopatic violence).

Not a bad line up I’m sure you’ll agree but with networks more ruthless than ever when it comes to renewals is it worth investing your time in so many new shows? It can be devastating to have a programme you have an emotional investment in cut-off prematurely but I’m sure you’ll agree even 14 episodes of Firefly were better than none.


TV roundup 11 June 2009

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Tuesday saw the season finale of Smalville on E4 in the UK, the latest series to come to an end for the year after Lost, 24, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles and  Dexter (season 2, though season 3 has recently started on FX). For most of these shows it proved to be their best seasons in years, a sparkling return to form for Jack Bauer and full season story arc for Clark Kent which didn’t revolve around Lex Luthor for once.

Lost delivered one of its best ever season endings (second only to the wonderful ‘flash forward’ of season three), with a gripping action heavy double bill centred around blowing up the island unfortunately dampened a little by the decision to reveal Jacob’s perplexing story in the flesh, though no doubt this will become a crucial part of the final season next year.

It’s a shame Fox has decided not to renew the Sarah Connor Chronicles for a third series as it proved to be a much more rewarding creation than McG’s big screen incarnation of the franchise. Though it lost its way a little half way through the second season the final four episodes were fantastic, bringing to a close several long gestating story arcs in a satisfying way, together with tantilising glimpses of a future war where John Connor is a mysterious, but absentee figure head (the way it should have been in the film) and some shocking deaths. One to remember on Blu-ray.

Keifer Sutherland may be in the news nowadays more because of his off-screen antics, but he still impresses as Jack Bauer. The seventh season was much anticipated after a years delay caused by the writers strike and while it might not have lived up to the expectations of die hard fans it was a welcome weekly thrill ride for most of us with the return of Tony Almeida, a raid on the White House and Jon Voight’s complex villain Jonas Hodges standing out as series highlights. Even Kim Bauer’s return was handled well with no head-smackingly stupid Kim in distress moments to rival the infamous cougar scene from series two and a genuinely heartfelt reunion with her father. Final episode was a stinker though with one cliff hanger too many and no real sense of closure on most of the major plot threads.

Dexter has gone from strength to strength with each new series, centred around a deliciously sinister central figure with well considered overall series story arcs delivering the kind of complex tales films can’t even touch. Michael C. Hall is a revelation in the role and the success of the series so far is well deserved. Series three recently started on FX in the UK and the plot premise seems just as intriguing as in the first two series, but it has a lot to live up to.

My Name is Earl has been consistently brilliant for four years, it will be a shame if it gets cancelled and I’m glad to see Californication back on Five USA a filthy, albeit sleight, comedy series worthy of attention. But Damages seems to have run its course. Closely following the formula of the excellent first series proved to be a mistake with an overly complex narrative brought to a far too neat conclusion with little of the tantilising moral questions viewers were left with at the end of the first. Patty Hewes is a character for the ages but if they hope to bring her back the series needs a radical overhaul.

Finally Smallville’s eighth season was easily the best since the first few. It was a gamble to take Lex out of the picture this series but the Doomsday plotline proved to be a huge success, rewarding viewers with several of the series’ best episodes so far and a wonderfully bleak conclusion which unfortunately failed to deliver the fight to the death the series had seemingly been building up to. The promise of Zod putting in appearance next year however has got this one Superman 2 fan practically wetting himself.

Special mention must also go to The Shield, possibly the greatest cop series of all time (though I have yet to watch my copies of The Wire). Vic Mackey’s tortured life came to a brutal conclucsion at the end of series seven, bringing story threads set up in the very first series full circle as Mackey’s hopelessly complex quest to rid himself of his past sins unravelled around him. The conclusion to the penultimate episode left me in disbelief for days after and the sombre, cathartic closing moments of the final episode proved to have a much greater emotional resonance with me than when The Soprano’s faded to black. A triumph.