Monday, September 26, 2011

Two Pilots of the Fall TV Season - Pan Am and Terra Nova

The Fall TV Season is upon us, and with it come the new shows, brought to us by the bright-eyed, hopeful business majors who've been running the studios and networks for a while. As we must each Fall, we are given another opportunity to try to cover the same territory that we've already seen in the lives of doctors, laywers and police and see some new twist upon the long-since drained-of-all-life-and-joy concept, and then call it a day.

You won't see me watching the new cop show about a lady cop in a hat (that's your twist?  A hat?), or the sexy cop that has photographic memory or some other super-power blown way out of proportion with reality, or the latest sexy medical drama or legal drama.  The only sitcom I've tried was the one with Zooey Deschanel because Zooey Deschanel (it was kind of twee, and I don't think its much of a set-up, but Deschanel was pretty funny).

I did, however, watch Pan Am and Terra Nova.

Pan Am

This show has decided to be about, week after week, one of the dullest of all human locations: the cabin of a jetliner.  Its also going to be about two kinds of people - stewardesses and pilots.  Not fun fighter pilots, but the bus drivers of the sky and the cocktail waitresses who, in my experience, are there to tell me what I'm doing wrong by having the gall to be 6'5" and yet try to take a plane.

I hate flying.  Did I mention that?

The cast of the show is uniformly attractive in a very bland, ABC Network type of way.  There's nobody who is attractive because they're striking.  They're all as lovely and forgettable as faces in a name-brand catalog.  Its not entirely true, but for the first fifteen minutes, I swear everybody on this show looked like everybody else.  And THEN they put everybody in uniforms.  I literally could not figure out what was going on until I figured out there were two actresses playing sisters, and that they weren't the same person.  Or that there weren't five different stewardesses.  I was so, so lost.

Realizing that 6 hour flights were boring enough that someone invented the in-flight movie, this show is going to, apparently, rely on flashbacks during each episode and book-ends to each flight to build characters.  I mean, I would guess they will do this.  As near as I could tell it was the characters day-dreaming cliche'd scenes from other soaps while serving coffee.

I will spoil things a bit and mention that one of our stewardesses is getting wrapped up in some international intrigue.  Apparently, according to the story I heard on NPR, this is based loosely in some reality.  Back in the day, Pan Am used to go so many places that they were called upon to participate in some work for the government, like helping to evacuate Cuba after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.  Which we've now already seen, so...  there you go.

The actress playing the spy is fine, I guess, but her choices as an actress tend to skew more toward bratty girl being told they're out of the shoes she wanted at the big sale than she seems to feel the weight of entering into the world of Cold War shenanigans.

A few things:

This was ABC's attempt to recapture the period-piece lightning in a bottle that we got from Mad Men, using the gender roles and politics of the day to comment upon characters in a knowing nod to today's context.  I guess maybe there's some of that.   The show flatly states that "something new is happening, and these women are emblematic of it".  An interesting point when these same women are asked to step on a scale before clocking in to work and valued mostly for being young and pretty.  Its not as if women didn't work prior to the publication of The Feminine Mystique, but those were, ahem... blue collar women.  Which... gross.  Not in prime time, people.

I'm just not sure SAYING that this was first wave feminism is the same as doing anything about demonstrating the cold war of the gender divide, which is an elengantly captured, ongoing and often unspoken theme of Mad Men.

Further:  Mad Men has the luxury or good sense of showing a range (albeit, a limited range) of women, and is able to show those skirmishes from multiple angles.

Its hard not to imagine the writing room getting lazy and the second season of this show basically about which pilot and which stewardess are finding passion THIS week, in WHICH port of call.

The biggest problem with the show is that despite its sheen and occasional reference to actual events, it feels more or less like any soap that could be taking place right now on a plane, which is also a little damning when you think about advances in avionics and air travel in the past 50 years (what the hell, aerospace engineers?).

Also:  the CGI is barely video game worthy, and the music was hilariously bombastic and sort of like the music they use at the IMAX when you're seeing helicopter shots of the Rocky Mountains and bald eagles and stuff.

Terra Nova

The only show I was genuinely interested in based upon its premise this season was Terra Nova, a sci-fi show about people from a future filled with pollution going back to the distant past (dinosaur times) to live happily amongst the brachiosaurs.

The show was awful, and I turned it off after about 45 minutes of its 2 hour premiere.

Laden with every cliche known to television, the show was so uninspired, it made its two leads in the parents a doctor and a cop.  Because, I guess, carving out a life during the Jurassic era wasn't enough story despite what three seasons of Land of the Lost will tell you.

The show clearly learned nothing from the structure of Lost, eagerly forcing multiple plots down our throats like am 8 year-old who wants to show you his stamp collection.  Unfortunately, all of the stamps in the kid's collection are the same stamps you can buy at the post-office in sheets of 50.  From the surly teenage boy resenting his father to the overly brainy teen providing exposition by delivering dinosaur trivia and fake-history, its all a bit much.  Especially that Dad is a cop who can spot the one unshaven guy with two-earrings and gelled hair as a clear "shady character" and uses his cop-powers to identify him as a "perp" and takes him down.  Its just truly @#$%ing awful.

Oh, well.  45 minutes.

What a trainwreck.

The saddest part was knowing that, at one point, before the suits got involved, there probably was a show worth watching.  Instead we basically get a show about a resort with stiff security and dinosaurs.

1 comment:

Simon MacDonald said...

I actually watched the entire first episode of Terra Nova. I was able to download it in glorious HD for free from iTunes so it was more than worth the price.

The show wasn't perfect by a long shot. I found it to be incredibly exposition heavy as it was attempting to catch the viewer up on the whole situation and laying down sub plots. The thing that bugged me most was stupid people doing dumb things just to get some drama going in the first episode.

I will probably watch episode 2 but if it doesn't really grab me I've got lots of books to read and other shows to watch.