TV Fall 2016: Wednesdays
Wednesday nights has been one of the slower nights of the week for my DVR, as the networks leave cop dramas and family comedies on the schedule with little of interest for me. But of the new shows they are airing this fall, I did check out these two:
Lethal Weapon: One of three high-profile reboots to get a fall start, Lethal Weapon of course is a TV adaptation of the famous movies starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. I felt like they were trying too hard to be faithful to the movies and the famous catchphrases that the pilot fell short of what it could have been. In the end, we’re getting a buddy cop show where one is a bit more button-down professional and the other is eccentric and bordering on crazy. (In this case, the calm one is a family man recovering from a heart attack and the crazy/suicidal one has nothing left to lose after his wife and baby were killed in an accident.) The hows and the whys either is the case almost don’t matter, though, because this formula is so pervasive now that there is a whole genre of TV based on it. Some of my favorite shows fit it – Castle and Psych, to name just two – but had something else this one may not: good writing. For one thing, it took a long time to get to where these two meet (establishing backstory first, then the iconic robbery sequence, then arguing back at HQ). Another, there were moments of clunky dialogue and transition – in one notable misfire, it looked like members of the LAPD can identify a partner they never met on sight after only hearing their name. The crime of the week was easily solved, as well, and I have little faith the writers will try any harder next time, judging by previews that seem to promise more movie-quality action set pieces instead. The only bright spot is that while Clayne Crawford lacks the charisma Gibson had to make Riggs’ kill-me-now intensity worth watching, Damon Wayans easily matches Glover in his portrayal of Murtaugh. My verdict? I’m being nice in giving it a second chance, to see if a “regular episode” with less set up and more plot can help overcome the show’s numerous flaws.
Designated Survivor: Some of the best serial dramas slowly heat the proverbial water to a boil slowly. Others, apparently, think you start by blowing up the Capitol building. That is the basic premise for this Keifer Sutherland star vehicle. The concept of a Cabinet member being left behind during a State of the Union, should the worst happen, has been televised before (including in an episode of “The West Wing”). This one dramatizes it by centering most of our attention on Sutherland’s professorial HUD Secretary who, for reasons left vague, was asked to resign his post the next day just hours before the bomb goes off. Through him we meet his family and staff, and in general the story plays out much as you would expect it to, save for an almost chilling exchange between the new POTUS and the ambassador to Iran. Other TV cliches include the teenage kid going rogue, war-hungry generals plotting to overthrow the chain of command, and a bathroom talk between strangers that starts with honesty and ends with embarrassment. Then, out of nowhere, Maggie Q shows up and reveals she’s a high-level FBI agent who (as all TV versions of such agents) can display both a mastery of crime-scene investigations and a working knowledge of and access to classified intelligence about overseas terrorism. She gets a couple good lines, including a random theory that more attacks are coming because no one claimed responsibility for the bombing in the first hour of the aftermath. That theory is the closest this show gets to nuance, shades of gray, or any kind of subtle intrigue that could really pull you and leave you guessing. Shows like last year’s freshman show Quantico did that successfully, if a little too ham-fistedly (calling the protagonist a paranoid conspiracy theorist for much of the season). DS seems content with showing you an obvious take on the kind of drama we all would expect from a terror attack of such proportions, at least as filtered through Hollywood’s lens. That said, the obvious drama is still very watchable, as all the actors did quiet well with what they had (even if I get the feeling Maggie Q’s character was shoe-horned in after the fact to give the gal some work). My verdict? I will continue to DVR the show at least through episode 4, and then reassess.
Frequency won’t premiere until October 5th. It, too, is an adaptation of a famous movie, but has been discussed in Hollywood blogs as part of a time-travel trend more so than in the reboot trend. Either way, it’s a movie I don’t remember seeing, and I do like watching the consequences of changing the past. So I’ll give this show’s pilot episode a shot, even if plenty of other shows are doing that this year (including The Flash).
Returning shows on the night worth mentioning: Blindspot moves here to an early hour (8pm) that seems misguided for a show that showed a lot of GSWs in the head complete with blood splatter. That said, the girl with all the tattoos has a lot more tats and a lot more questions, as she is reunited with her family and has to play double-agent for both the FBI and her terrorist-lead family. Elsewhere, Arrow continues its dark and brooding superhero antics and Empire continues its telenovela-style unrealistic drama while delivering killer songs and jaw-dropping plot twists.