July 16, 2007

On Second Chances and TV Shows

Now, I admit, I'm extremely anal when it comes to my love of shows, especially shows that show some potential. But I also sometimes comes late to the table - it took my mom, Lefty, and several others to sell me on the charm of Veronica Mars (which, for me, is like Raymond Chandler writing Sweet Valley High). So when I hear of a show that deserves watching, I'm all on that like peanut butter on toast.

So earlier tonight, I went onto the CBS.com web site, and decided to check out the pilot of Jericho. And after watching the pilot, I wondered to myself
  • how this pilot even came to become a series, and
  • why people are so gosh-darned fascinated with this series.
Yes, I know the basic premise - a small town is isolated in the wake of a possible nuclear attack on a major city...but the writing on this pilot is just so awful. It's a mish-mash of different styles (it's a family drama! It's a post-apocalyptic piece! It's a piece of small-town Americana! It's one of those wacky Lost-type mysteries!), and at several points, I felt motivated to punch out my monitor, frustrated at how cheesy the pilot was.

But wait, Gordon, those of you who are fans of the show will say, you're being so unfair - you have to watch every episode of the series in order to get it. It's all of a piece. You're judging an entire show based on one episode.

To which I would respond - the whole point of a pilot is to set the mood, and more importantly - to get people to tune into the next episode. I appreciate that the producers are trying to create a 21st-century spin on nuclear holocaust literature - however, too many of the characters are written from simple cliches - the Prodigal Son, the Noble Sherriff, the Troubled Leader, the Lost Love, and nobody really struck an emotional chord. Insert a do-it-yourself tracheotomy ala MacGuyver, and Gerald McRaney's "big speech" at the end, and you have a piece that might have worked in the 1970's, or even the early '80s....but not for the more sophisticated watcher.

It's fashionable to bash Lost - I've done it myself - but it's upped the ante for episodic television, making the more arc-driven tendencies of Buffy and Babylon 5 more prominent. Heroes managed to take a somewhat stock, fanboy-esque question (super powers in the real world) and give it a Watchmen-esque weight by stripping the costumes and focusing on impact. Doctor Who's 3rd season - despite a dodgy ending - probably comes the closest to an overall arc from beginning to end. Although the new Battlestar Galactica doesn't do overt arcs, thematically it's probably as close as we're going to get to a depiction of decimation by an enemy.

Which is why Jericho comes up so short in its pilot, and which is why I will not follow it for a second episode. It doesn't give us characters to care about - it gives us ciphers. It doesn't shoot for grand themes, except "let's all behave ourselves and be nice because that's what we are about." It might reek of some slight network interference (which is not limited to original programming - just ask Stephen Moffett), but it only shows that too many cooks can turn stew into broth.

Still, there are two things about Jericho that I can appreciate - it provided me with pretty good grist for a blog entry. And it makes me appreciate The Postman even more.

1 comment:

Roger Green said...

Having watched neither Jericho or Lost, can't speak to the specifics. I CAN say there are plenty of shows that weren't great shows out of the gate, but took a half SEASON or more to jell: M*A*S*H, Barney Miller, Cagney & Lacey (with a recast).

So, while I do judge a show by its pilot in terms of whether I'm going to watch it anymore, it's not always an accurate indicator of what may turn out to be good. I couldn't get through the 30 Rock pilot, but lots of folks are telling me it's now better than sliced bread.