Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hit List: Why Must The Good Die Young?

There comes a time in every show's life where the writing just doesn't keep up with the viewership... or it's the acting.... or it's the time-slot.... or....

It could be a combination of factors. It could be the fact that so many viewers are preferring their shows online, instead of on-air. It could be the fact that some of us... ahem... might even prefer "commercial-free viewing"....


The bottom line is, some shows deserve to die, and they get picked up for another raunchy, angst-ridden, bloody, or otherwise cringe-inducing season. Others, for reasons known only to the soulless impersonal, detached network powers-that-be get the axe before they've been given a chance to make it through their first season.

Here is a list of my Top 5 Shows That Ended Too Soon. Ut requiescant in pace.

Obligatory Reference: Firefly

Because every list ever made on the subject includes this one. (Thank you Nathan, for demonstrating so perfectly everyone's reaction to the mention of the odious cancellation by FOX Network).

It had everything going for it: heart, soul, character, action--this is Joss Whedon GOLD, we're talking about, here! Citizens of Earth heading out into space to "terraform" other planets and colonize them, set far enough in the future that Earth itself is a distant memory to all characters involved, and furthermore, the freshly-colonized universe has just undergone a civil war. A former captain and soldier who wasn't supposed to survive, his first mate, a pilot, a priest, a mechanic, a mercenary, a doctor and his crazy, unstable super-genius sister all embark in a raggedy old ship called the Serenity to evade capture by the evil Alliance that considers itself the supreme governmental authority, and have rousing adventures along the way.
Unfortunately, viewers in the 90's weren't as invested in their shows, so the Serenity's crew didn't stand a chance. They tried; all of the actors from this show went on to have extraordinary success in other ventures. (Unlike another famous space franchise we all know, which was basically the kiss-of-death for most of the participants, some of whom never quite recovered from the infamy...)
You know what didn't help things? The movie that was meant as a heartfelt apology to all the more devoted fans, which attempted to fill in some of the larger plot-holes (though not in a very satisfactory manner), and (SPOILER ALERT!) ended up killing off the show's more favored characters... Yeeeeeaaaaahhhh, not so much.

5. Once Upon A Time in Wonderland (ABC)

(Run Time: 13 episodes)
Okay, it's been about a month since the finale... I think I'm over it now.

After the angst-ridden drag-out that the parent show, Once Upon A Time is creeping through, you'd think I'd be happy that this one decided to keep it short and sweet.
But no... The difference being that I absolutely fell in love with the characters on this show. They just seemed so much more real and so much less melodramatic and deliberately confused about what's happening in front of their faces (Ahem! Here's looking at you, Emma Swann!) and a lot more engaging than the characters--and even the cast--of Once Upon A Time.

What drives me crazy about this is I could see immediately all of the potential this show had to go on considerably longer than it did. In all the plethora of back-story episodes centered on the villains, they missed the key question of "What was the Knave doing in Storybrooke and how did he get there?" We can guess (sort of) when-abouts in the Once Upon A Time continuity he might have been there, so how might an outsider have reacted to all the shenanigans the writers so love to pull on the inhabitants of Storybrooke? And when it did finally cross over, near the end--how can it be possible that two people and a talking rabbit can just show up in a crater in the middle of a town in Storybrooke--and no other characters show up or seem to notice? The Storybrooke portrayed in Once Upon A Time in Wonderland is well-nigh a ghost town. Not fair, indeed!

But, given their track record... I suppose I would rather ABC cut a series short than keep it going beyond the bounds of creativity and propriety and make a mess of things. So yes, I'm miffed... but I have a crossover fanfiction in the works, I'm reviewing the series on a friend's blog... so:

4. No Ordinary Family (ABC)

(Run Time: 20 episodes)
It's been so long since I've seen this show that I can't even remember when or where I first heard about it. (Maybe as a promo on an episode of Once Upon A Time or something, because it's the same network)
Anyway, it looked like a live-action remake of the Incredibles--but loaded with a lot more drama and intrigue than your average family film! I mean, a family who wants to get back together, so they decide to take a vacation in Brazil, and on the flight back to civilization, while they're crossing the Amazon, a storm hits and the plane goes down--but the family survives. And "something in the water" gave them all unique superpowers. And those unique superpowers, as they're used together, draw the family closer and help them find the purposefulness and unity they so badly needed. Meawhile, things get complicated, there's enemies, the mom happens to be a scientist at a chemical research facility who manages to replicate the "super serum" that was in the Amazon water, and so the villain can both take away the family's powers and leave them vulnerable, while giving others superpowers and making them invincible and immortal--there is comedy, heart-warming family stuff, action, stunts... the list goes on!

As with Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, this show was also intended as a short "break filler" so it wasn't like they cut it off before they'd used up all the episodes... and there wasn't a gut-wrenching full-stop at the end... just, you know, the big-bad villain infecting a whole plane full of criminals with the chemical and letting it crash in an undisclosed location so that the NSA has to contact the Parrs--excuse me, the Powells--to help them recover the now-super-criminals...
Seriously, what is it with ABC and coming up with perfectly good ideas in time to ditch them in favor of rehashing the "same-old, same-old"?

3. King & Maxwell (TNT)
(Run Time: 10 episodes)
In lieu of a promo/trailer (because I couldn't find one...) the above GIF accurately depicts my feelings concerning this show.
For starters, I didn't even know it was a show! Earlier this year, my sister introduced me to the awesomeness that is David Baldacci and his famous couple, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, former Secret Service agents who got scapegoated by their superiors and turned their highly-specified skills to the world of private investigating.
So a couple months later, I am surfing the web and I find a reference to "TNT's King & Maxwell" and I'm like "Hot Jambalaya!" So I look it up, and there are only 10 episodes... and the last one aired in August of last year.... and it was officially cancelled a month later.... A mere five months before I even knew how wonderful Baldacci really was... he was just one of those authors whose books showed up everywhere... usually in public school break rooms alongside Jodi Piccoult and Danielle Steele novels... I mean, that's a lot of paperback novels, know what I'm saying? But... I know differently now... so can we just, you know, revisit the past... or something.... maybe...

Aw, nuts.

Having viewed not only the show in its entirety, but I am very close to finishing the book series as well, I can say that:

A) as far as adaptations go, the TNT writers nailed it with the casting choices and the scripting. From my impressions of Baldacci's original presentation, the characters on the screen are extensions and expansions, absolutely faithful to the book portrayals. (Which also means that not once do we see the main characters ramp their relationship to the physical level ever at all; they don't even share a room! Say WHAAAT?)
B) As far as show quality goes, I can see no reason whatsoever to justify it's cancellation. At least for some shows you can see where the writing goes weak and ending the show is almost akin to a mercy killing... but from the pilot to Episode 10 the show maintained an admirable energy level. The official reasons given (that I could find) was a comparison to the shows that preceded this one, namely The Closer and its spin-off, Major Crimes which both starred power women (who no doubt find themselves in complicit circumstances all over the place, hence the drug-like draw) and a conclusion (however biased) that King & Maxwell just wasn't hitting the same numbers as those other shows. And so....

Anybody interested in a mint-condition, never-before-used conspiracy theory centered around a well-balanced crime-solving couple with a perfect record of inter-partner banter?

2. Alphas (Syfy)

 (Run Time: 24 episodes)
Count 'em, people! That's two whole seasons!
Okay, now we're into the territory of shows that should not have been cancelled but got the axe anyway for no intelligent reason whatsoever.
I kid you not... an internet search yields only the official releases shortly before everyone was expecting Season 3 to begin, along the lines of "So long and thanks for all the fish!" and really no other reason. Not a phony "evaluation of numbers", there was no indication that the writers were running out of material at all... And for crying out loud, the cliffhanger was one of the cruelest, most despicable, heart-wrenching, mind-blowing, bad-guy-wins cliffhanger in the history of cliffhangers!!

I have always held the position of "Like attracts like": you want to attract a certain kind of person, you start acting like that kind of person; shows with a particular caliber tend to attract and receive guest appearances from actors who appreciate that kind of caliber. So when a show like Alphas gets appearances by Hollywood heavy-hitters like Summer Glau and Sean Astin--it means it's a really great show, people! Big-ticket actors are not shy about turning down roles they don't want.... so their acceptance really does mean something.
But apparently the Network didn't get the memo. And so, unfortunate collateral citizens of New York who were unwittingly trapped in a war between "specials" not unlike (but far more real-world-ish) those of the X-Men....
We're sorry you died. And we did so badly want Gary Bell (The inimitable Ryan Cartwright... he is awesome!) to be the one who figured out how to save you all...

1. A Gifted Man (CBS)

(Run Time: 16 episodes)
And... oh great... now I'm going to end this post really ticked off. 
I don't typically watch medical dramas. They're usually light on the medical and heavy on the drama... and the melodrama... and the romantic angst....
Yeah, that's because they didn't have the fabulous Margo Martindale in the front office, taking names and not putting up with shenanigans. Some other things that kept me watching:

-The focus on neurosurgery. For obvious reasons I have always had a lingering interest in the neurological field. So to have a show where the main character is a neurosurgeon (who, in fact, really did remind me a lot of the neuro-docs I've encountered and dealt with in recent years) who deals a lot with neurological disabilities and emergencies... it really struck a chord with me. (So much so that I actually incorporated my story into yet another fanfiction... and it actually worked...)
-Holla! Jennifer Ehle for the WIN! She plays the medical director of a free clinic in a poor neighborhood, who has to convince her ex-husband to volunteer there, even though he has his own prestigious practice with high-end clients in the center of town. (This was the role I learned that she wasn't really British... something I never would have guessed with her top-notch performance as Elizabeth Bennet!)
-The free clinic thing was a "real-world connection" factor that worked out well. Apparently, the cases seen in this clinic (as portrayed on the show) were based on real-life cases from real walk-in clinics around the world. Some pretty awesome writing done there.
-Oh, and did we mention that Jennifer Ehle's character is a ghost? She can only interact with her ex-husband (who, by the way, does not go with that old "a ghost shows up in my life" trope--which means freaking out and inviting horrified looks from bystanders whenever she appears--but he keeps his cool and finds clever ways of covering it from people around him!) and just when he's reconciling with having her back in his life in this form... he finds a young woman who just received her heart in a transplant... and then the same woman promptly experiences a car crash... her life, and potentially the existence of Anna-the-ghost hangs in the balance...


Annnd.... this was basically my reaction... (thanks, Jennifer)