2010 Year End TV Review: Will Harris

You’d think it’d be easy for me to pull together a “Best TV of 2010” list, given that I’ve attended two TCA press tours (one in the winter, one in the summer), participated in two editions of Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings (one in the spring, one in the fall), and pulled together the site’s annual Fall TV Preview, but damned if that doesn’t somehow make the task harder. Nobody likes to feel like they’re repeating themselves, and given that there’s going to be some inevitable content crossover between all of these various pieces, I often find myself bouncing back and forth between all of these features, wondering if I’m subconsciously recycling a particularly nice choice of phrase. Hopefully, I’ve managed to make this sound at least somewhat original, but if for some reason you feel I’ve failed at that endeavor, please, for God’s sake, don’t take it out on the shows. It’s not their fault, and they shouldn’t be held accountable for my lack of creativity.

Oh, and one other note: in a further effort to avoid conceptual duplication, I’ve only written about each show once, so if you see a show’s title without anything written beside it, look back and you’ll find where I’ve already written about it. That, or I screwed up. Either’s possible, really. (I’m only human, after all.)

Best Shows to Come and Go within 2010

1. Terriers (FX) – It’s a testament to the quality of “Terriers” that FX president John Landgraf held a teleconference with journalists after breaking the news of the series’ cancellation in order to explain his actions, but I don’t think anyone really blamed the guy, anyway: the show’s ratings were as deplorable as the writing was phenomenal. Between the awful ad campaign for the show (no, it wasn’t about dogs) and the fact that many of the viewers who did tune in were kind of bummed out by too-real character traits and developments like alcoholism, infidelity, divorce, and mental illness, it’s not a surprise that it wasn’t a huge hit. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing.
2. Lone Star (Fox) – I’d like to think that this “Dallas”-esque series about a con man leading two lives would’ve been battling with “Terriers” for the top spot if only Fox hadn’t canceled it after only two episodes…but, then, if they can’t canceled it after only two episodes, then maybe viewers might’ve embraced “Lone Star” enough that it wouldn’t have been canceled at all. Oh, wait, never mind, I forgot: it was on Fox, so it probably still would’ve been canceled, anyway. Even so, Kyle Killen provided an intriguing concept and delivered it with the help of a top-notch cast. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of it.

3. Warren the Ape (MTV) – So falls another network effort by one of our favorite fabricated Americans. Greg the Bunny couldn’t keep a show alive on either Fox or IFC, but it really seemed like a given that the shenanigans of Warren the Ape were tailor-made for MTV viewers. Not so, apparently. Frankly, the whole thing smacks of anti-puppetism. Warren himself has conceded that “fabricated Americans still have a very long way to go in this country, and I think it’s always going to be an uphill battle.” How right he was.
4. Happy Town (ABC) – Note to ABC’s publicity department: while I appreciate your intentions when you underlined the comparisons between “Happy Town” and “Twin Peaks” with a giant Magic Marker, you have to expect that “Twin Peaks” fans are going to offer up their equivalent of the old “I knew Jack Kennedy” line. Yeah, I know, you only meant it as a point of reference, and you never intended to imply that the two series were on even creative footing, but try telling them that. For my part, I thought it was a creepy little sleeper of a show…but, unfortunately, the other five people who agreed with me weren’t enough to keep it on the air.

5. Sons of Tucson (Fox) – I’m still not quite sure what Fox was thinking by trying to slot this poor live-action sitcom into the midst of their otherwise-animated Sunday night line-up. Maybe they’d hoped it would instill viewers with a bit of nostalgia for the days of “Malcolm in the Middle,” given the similarity in feel between that show and “Tucson.” If so, the plan failed miserably. In a perfect world, the network would raise the series from the dead and team it with “Raising Hope.” Now that’s a double bill I could get behind.

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Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2010 Summer Press Tour Wrap-Up: From the Big Bang to the Jersey Shore

He’s back.

That’s right, the summer 2010 press tour of the Television Critics Association – that’s TCA to you, see? – has come and gone, leaving in its wake a piece that I love to compile but hate to finish. It’s just that kind of experience: there’s always something else to write about.

I know I say this every time, so you’d think my mindset on the tour would’ve changed by now, but I still continue to get excited when I fly to California and spend the better part of two weeks ensconced in a hotel, watching and listening as closely as possible (which, admittedly, isn’t often as closely as I’d like) to various stars, directors, producers, and writers as they do a dog and pony show to promote their program. I know they get sick of it sometimes, but for my part, I still haven’t. I spend the better part of 48 weeks of the year in Chesapeake, VA, a place where I do not regularly cross paths with the people that you see on your TV screen. As such, I remain excited about the opportunity to participate in these ridiculously cool opportunities, and I still feel like I have to share the experience with you, the reader, lest they begin to seem normal to me.

It’s not normal.

It’s the TCA press tour.

And trust me, unless you’re actually in show business, life doesn’t get much less normal than this.

Most entertaining panel by a broadcast network: “Circus,” PBS. Given the subject matter of the series – yes, it really is about the circus, specifically what it’s like to be part of a traveling circus in 2010 – it wasn’t entirely surprising that the panel kicked off with acrobat Christian Stoinev demonstrating some of his gymnastic abilities, but that didn’t make his performance any less impressive.

Plus, he earned bonus points for incorporating a cute little dog named Scooby into the act, who jumped onto Stoinev’s butt, strolled down his back, sat on his feet, and looked as calm as possible as Stoinev balanced semi-precariously on his parallel bars.

Most entertaining panel by a cable network: “Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town,” IFC. When I walked into the ballroom and found that we’d all received autographed DVDs of the Kids’ latest endeavor, I thought, “Can it get any better than this?” (I’m a sucker for anything autographed.) Indeed, it could, as the Kids – minus Mark McKinney, who’d been called back to Canada because of a family emergency – held court and kept us in stitches.

Some of my favorite moments:

QUESTION: How long had it been since you had cross-dressed professionally before (“Death Comes to Town”), and was that sort of a difficult readjustment for any of you?
SCOTT THOMPSON: Define “professionally.”
QUESTION: With a large crew.
SCOTT THOMPSON: Oh.
DAVE FOLEY: Not just any exchange of money.
BRUCE McCULLOCH: So if you shoot porn with a small crew, that wouldn’t count…?
KEVIN McDONALD: That’s not cross-dressing professionally.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah. If you put on a nice shirt and give a handjob at the bus station, that still is professional.
SCOTT THOMPSON: Yes, it is.
BRUCE McCULLOCH: And by “handjob,” we mean “Bible reading,” as we like The Bible.

* Dave Foley on the audience response to Scott Thompson’s cancer being in remission: “I’m getting a sense that a lot of these people are on the cancer side. Well, I hope you are proud of yourselves. ‘Oh, dammit, not another one beating cancer. Poor cancer. When will people learn to love cancer?'”

* Scott Thompson: “I had a much easier time making (‘Death Comes to Town’), even though I was fighting cancer, than I did with ‘Brain Candy,’ honestly. It was tougher to fight Paramount. Because, at least with cancer, you can win.”

QUESTION: Do you find that people, when they see you, wanted to just squash your head? Because, like, I’m sitting here, like, resisting.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah, a lot of time it has no reference to that gesture. It’s people actually want to crush our heads.
KEVIN McDONALD: The first apartment I ever moved to in Los Angeles, 1996, I was in bed the first night, and a couple were having a fight in the floor above me. And he was crying, “I’m going to crush your head,” and I thought they were fans, but it turned out they weren’t.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah, it was a bloody homicide.
KEVIN McDONALD: It was a bloody homicide, yes.
DAVE FOLEY: But still, you felt flattered.
KEVIN McDONALD: But still, I felt flattered.

* When asked about their current relationship with Lorne Michaels, who introduced them to the U.S., McCulloch said, “I watch him get a haircut once a year when I go to ‘Saturday Night Live,'” while Foley claimed, “I chill his Amstel Light.” (“And drink it,” added McDonald.)

* Kevin McDonald made the bold choice of using the word “guff” at one point, receiving no end of ridicule from his fellow Kids. “It’s a tough word,” said McCulloch,”I know it’s tough to hear.” Thompson gasped and shrieked, “You said ‘guff‘!” Foley, however, offered a practical solution to the assembled journalists. “You can put asterisks in that. Just G-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk for your print,” he said, adding, “Of course, you online media people can just change it to ‘fuck.’”

* “Death Comes to Town” was filmed in North Bay, ON, but Foley said that it was a rarity for locals to come up and acknowledge their recognition of the Kids. “Canadians don’t do that,” explained Thompson. “Yeah,” agreed Foley. “They’d just come up and start talking to you like they knew you. You know, you would be in the grocery store, and somebody would just come up behind you and say, ‘Special K is marked down today. I’m getting the Special K as well. What are you doing later, Dave?’ And that was how you knew they recognized you.”

* The miniseries features Foley playing “the kindly old town abortionist,” which made it a bit difficult to scout for locations. Foley said that they had to keep making up stuff to tell the people of North Bay, saying things like, “Yeah, this scene, it’s a gynecologist’s office,” or “Oh, it’s an obstetrician’s office.” Or, as Scott Thompson claimed, “It’s a very bad day care.” At this, the crowd of critics erupted with a mixture of boos and laughs. “That was good,” Thompson assured us. “That was bad,” Foley assured him. At this, Thompson nodded, grinned, and admitted, “Very bad.”

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 4

The 4th day of the TCA tour started out not with a panel but with a poolside breakfast with the cast of USA’s new series, “Covert Affairs.” Like several of my fellow critics, I’m not a huge fan of events where the network publicists divide with the cast members and conquer the room by bringing the actors by the various tables and saying, “Oh, have you met (INSERT ACTOR’S NAME HERE) yet?” I’m not saying it isn’t kind of cool to be finishing up your danish and have Peter Gallagher and Keri Matchett stroll up…which, as you might’ve guessed, is exactly what happened to me…but at the same time, my concentration is on my breakfast, not on whatever questions I might have for them, so it’s kind of a stilted conversation. I mean, c’mon, man, I haven’t even finished my coffee yet! I did manage to ask Keri if this new gig meant that we wouldn’t be seeing her pop up on “Leverage” again anytime soon, and, alas, she sighed and admitted that it probably did. Damn.

Before I headed back upstairs to the ballroom to get ready for the first proper panel of the day, I waited around for a few minutes in hopes of chatting with Sendhil Ramamurthy and Anne Dudek, but after loitering for 10+ minutes as they talked with someone from TV Guide, I could see no signs of their conversation abating. I finally gave up and decided that I’d just try to grab them at the NBC party that evening…which, FYI, I successfully ended up doing.

The Event

When I watched the pilot for “The Event,” a new sci-fi / action series that will immediately remind viewers of “Lost,” “Fringe,” and possibly even “24,” I was instantly captivated and loved every minute of it. Even as I watched it, though, I knew that my wife would be far less thrilled, owing to the fact that there is a tendency for the proceedings to bounce back and forth in time…and she hates that. Clearly, she’s not the only one, since the topic was addressed almost immediately during the show’s panel, but the show’s executive producers – Nick Wauters, Steve Stark, Evan Katz, and Jeffrey Reiner – reassured us as much as possible.

“It’s definitely something that we’re going to keep using, at least in the near future, as long as it serves character and story,” said Wauters. “But you may not see as much of it as we go along.”

“Also, I think if you look at the pilot, the pilot was about 50 percent flashbacks, believe it or not,” said Stark. “A little over that, actually. That’s not going to be the idea moving forward. In episode 4, there’s a whole series of just getting to know Sean and Leila from a character standpoint, but it’s just that.”

“Time will move forward from episode 2 on,” said Katz. “It will be a more linear approach, and there will be flashbacks, but the story will continue to thrust forward.”

I don’t know if that’ll make my wife feel a heck of a lot better, but it’s something, anyway. It also serves as a reminder that, although “The Event” has a tremendous cast, one which includes Zeljko Ivanek, Laura Innes, Jason Ritter, Sarah Roemer, Scott Patterson, and Blair Underwood (as the President of the United States), as a serialized drama, it’s the producers who hold the answers to all of the truly important questions. Heck, the actors don’t really know anything…and they’re not afraid to admit it!

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 1

Welcome back, my friends, to the experience that has been lovingly described as being “like the Bataan death march, but with cocktails.” I speak, of course, of the Television Critics Association press tour…but, then, if you’re a regular reader of Premium Hollywood, then you already know that I visit California twice a year – first in January, then in July – in order to get the details on what new programs the broadcast and cable networks will be bringing you over the course of the next six months. Myself and my TV critic peers will be spending the better part of the next two weeks in a big ballroom at the Beverly Hilton, watching and listening as the casts and creators of the various new series trot onto the stage, answer our questions and address our issues, and make room for the next series. Then, at the end of most evenings, there’s a big party with most of the folks we’ve seen during the course of the day, and we get the opportunity to chat one on one with as many of them as we can wrangle. Oh, sure, there are free drinks to be had, but when you’re trying to play the part of a proper journalist, you can’t indulge but so much…well, not ’til you’ve gotten all of your interviews, anyway.

Fortunately, the first day of the Summer 2010 TCA Press Tour started slowly, providing visits to the sets of a few series, a trip around the Warner Brothers studio lot, a ride on the latest addition to the Universal Studios tour, and – to ease us in slowly – only two proper panels. We did, however, get a few Q&A ops while at the various sets, some of which were decidedly more impressive than others.

“Desperate Housewives” set visit

Having never watched a complete episode of “Desperate Housewives (I rather expect I’d like it, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to play catch-up at this point), I had no personal investment in visiting the set for Wisteria Lane, but when you’re a heterosexual male and you’re presented with the opportunity to stand within a few feet of Eva Longoria Parker, you don’t turn it down.

Unfortunately, it took us for-freaking-ever to finally make our way to the set, as our bus driver apparently had no clue as to its whereabouts, aside from the fact that it was located somewhere on the Universal Studios lot. As a result, instead of getting to enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the set before beginning our interaction with series creator Marc Cherry and members of the show’s cast (Longoria Parker, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, and new addition Vanessa Williams), I got off the bus and barely had a chance to grab a cup of coffee and a bagel before the proceedings had begun.

Cherry and the cast appeared, cheerily greeted the assembled critics and thanked us for coming to the set, then split the group, with Huffman and Williams setting up camp in one house and Cherry, Cross, and Longoria Parker in another. Even if Eva hadn’t been in the mix, I knew from previous TCA experience that Cherry is always entertaining, so I followed him and his Housewives inside to hear what they had to tell us about the upcoming season of the show. At first, Eva was going to speak to what we could expect from Gabrielle’s storylines this year, but she stumbled almost immediately, admitting that she couldn’t remember what Cherry had told her she could say and what she couldn’t.

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Greetings to the New Season: NBC

When the season finales begin to air, then you know that it’s only a matter of time before the network upfront presentations begin. If you’re not familiar with the concept of the upfront, it’s when the networks formally roll out their fall schedules, providing advance warning about the slate of new programming for the next season, thereby allowing for several months of snarky comments about series which no one has even seen yet. Give credit to NBC, though: they’ve actually offered up clips for virtually every one of their new shows in order to get the buzz going as quickly as possible…be it positive or negative. Check out what they’ve got to offer, then let us know what you think!

MONDAY

8 – 9 PM: Chuck

9 – 10 PM: The Event: an emotional, high-octane conspiracy thriller that follows Sean Walker (Jason Ritter, “The Class”), an Everyman who investigates the mysterious disappearance of his fiancée, Leila (Sarah Roemer, “Disturbia”), and unwittingly begins to expose the biggest cover-up in U.S. history. Sean’s quest will send ripples through the lives of an eclectic band of strangers, including: newly elected U.S. President Martinez (Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood, “In Treatment”); Sophia (Emmy Award nominee Laura Innes, “ER”), who is the leader of a mysterious group of detainees; and Sean’s shadowy father-in-law (Scott Patterson, “Gilmore Girls”). Their futures are on a collision course in a global conspiracy that could ultimately change the fate of mankind. Ian Anthony Dale (“Daybreak”) and Emmy winner Željko Ivanek (“Damages”) also star in the ensemble drama. Stark (“Medium,” “Facing Kate”) serves as executive producer, Evan Katz (“24”) serves as executive producer/showrunner, Nick Wauters (“The 4400,” “Eureka”) is creator/co-executive producer and Jeffrey Reiner (“Friday Night Lights,” “Trauma”) is the director/executive producer.

10 – 11 PM: Chase: a fast-paced drama that drops viewers smack into the middle of a game of cat-and-mouse as a team of U.S. marshals hunts down America’s most dangerous fugitives. Kelli Giddish (“Past Life”) stars as U.S. Marshal Annie Frost, a cowboy boot-wearing deputy whose sharp mind and unique Texas upbringing help her track down the violent criminals on the run. Cole Hauser (“K-Ville”), Amaury Nolasco (“Prison Break”), Rose Rollins (“The L Word”) and Jesse Metcalfe (“Desperate Housewives”) also star as members of Frost’s elite team. Jerry Bruckheimer (“CSI” franchise, “The Amazing Race,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” films), Jonathan Littman (“CSI” franchise, “The Amazing Race,” “Cold Case”) and Jennifer Johnson (“Cold Case”) serve as executive producers, while KristieAnne Reed is co-executive producer. David Nutter (“The Mentalist,” “Without a Trace” “The X-Files”) directed and is executive producer of the pilot, which was written by Johnson.

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