The DVR was on the verge of overflowing tonight because of the two-hour premiere of The River, a new Justified (don’t look at me like that, Erik — I’ll catch up soon), and a newish Lost Girl, so I found myself watching four hours of TV to try to keep pace. A brief report.
Smash is NBC’s new show around the staging of a musical about Marilyn Monroe. The absolutely lovely Katharine McPhee, who you know from American Idol and who I don’t know at all, is being pushed as the breakout star, but, and I’ll just quote my wonderful wife on this point, I’m not entirely convinced that the slim brunette would be such a natural choice for the Marilyn role. That said, and echoing that same wife, the first episode was the best pilot I’ve seen in years. It was, first of all, an episode of television, with a beginning, middle, and end. It introduced the world (high-dollar New York musical theater). It introduced the characters and gave them each at least a little bit of trouble. It showed the beginnings of how these characters are going to bump into each other over the course of the season to create compelling drama. In short, the pilot made me want to keep watching even though I wasn’t 100% wowed or convinced that the series will be amazing. Why all of this is so hard for the studios and writers to pull off these days is completely beyond me, particularly given that they’re all allowing themselves two hours to do it. (Smash had a one-hour premiere, bless Theresa Rebeck’s soul.)
This week’s Castle had a fun premise, where Castle gets obsessed with solving a 1947 mystery involving a New York gangster and a private eye, which leads to the solving of a present-day murder. This allowed Castle to imagine himself as a hard-boiled detective and Beckett as a gangster’s moll. The problem: the actors were atrocious at this. Nathan Fillion has at least apparently seen enough hard-boiled detective movies to have a handle on what the accent is supposed to sound like and what the physical aspect is supposed to look like. That he slipped in and out of the voice throughout the episode is just execution. Stana Katic, by contrast, appears to never have seen a film from before 1980. Her movements were wrong and her voice was laughably bad. Like embarrassingly unwatchable, literally. I was sitting on the couch covering my eyes, cringing when she spoke in that character. Katic has improved from her early days as Beckett, but her attempts to play this new character, even briefly, even broadly, even semi-jokingly, make it painfully clear just how little she can handle as an actor. The show has, it seems, been relying increasingly in the last season and a half on dubious framing that keeps Katic’s jeans-clad bum prominently in the picture for far longer than is strictly necessary. This episode perhaps shows why.
The Fades aired last year in England and is currently getting a run on BBC America. It’s a modern-day fantasy show about people (“Angelics”) who can see ghosts. We come in to the show as Paul, a 17-year-old awkward kid with basically one friend, is realizing that he can see dead people. Neil is his older mentor, and we’re quickly drawn into a world on the verge of ending — some ghosts have suddenly started eating flesh, which allows them to interact with the physical world as something you might more likely call a ghoul than a ghost, a Big Bad is leading them (and takes on a human form in the third episode), and so on. (The circular question of how the ghosts ate flesh before they could touch said flesh isn’t really addressed. I’m not concerned.)
There’s not much exactly new in the show. Paul is a reluctant savior, just like Buffy or the dude in Carnivale or any B-level fantasy novel you’ve ever read. Neil is his mentor, trying to get him to take the end of the world seriously. There are visions and seizures. There’s an accidental reveal of Paul’s powers to non-Angelics. (Another quibble: people seem really blase about the fact that Paul made his hand glow and fused his sister’s mouth shut. Like, she’s mad at him, but she’s mad in a way you’d be mad at your brother for embarrassing you in front of your friends or ripping your favorite jeans. She’s sibling-mad, not “oh my god what happened to me is beyond my comprehension” mad. This is, in theory, part of the charm of the show, but I’m not sure if it’s quite campy enough to really sell that these characters would just be totally ok with Paul suddenly having super powers.)
I like it, though, having watched three episodes. The action isn’t moving along at an enormously fast pace, especially given that it’s British and thus isn’t a 22-hour show, but things are happening, Paul is embracing his powers, much wise is cracked on a variety of sides, and the human side of the show, Paul’s interactions with his best friend Matt, his new girlfriend Jay (Sophie Wu, who despite playing high-school-aged is just two years younger than me, which thank goodness, because I have the biggest crush), his twin sister (and polar opposite), and his mother has heart and feels grounded. Grand pronouncements and speeches are avoided (except that Paul does storm out of the house shouting at his mother that she doesn’t understand, which she doesn’t, because she is unaware of his powers and responsibilities — I told you Buffy was a major touchstone). Characters just talk to each other. When they’re not stuttering nervously, that is.
It’s nice is what I’m saying. It’s not a perfect show, but in the absence of Alphas, it’s nice to have a nerd show to latch on to that isn’t the middling Grimm, a program that could learn some lessons from The Fades about realistic dialogue and how to make jokes land.