Mid-season replacements are tricky in TV land. More often than not, you’re just seeing the castoffs that didn’t make fall premiere season – the stuff that got made because someone at some point liked it, but then over the course of development it fell apart. For every Simpsons, Seinfeld or Grey’s Anatomy that comes from midseason, there are approximately 850,000 Point Pleasants. Which makes it all the more odd that two of my favourite things on television in a long while, and aside from Fringe, easily my favourite things from this season, have premiered in the last few weeks.
Essentially, a modern-day retelling of the story of David. The first episode, called Goliath, dealt with, well, y’know. Except in this case, Goliath was a tank instead of a really big dude. Set in an alternate-universe present day where the U.S. is a monarchy called Gilboa, ruled by the delightfully charismatic and edgy Ian McShane. McShane, as King Silas, has his son saved from wartime capture by the idealistic and well-meaning David, who soon finds himself in a position of note in the kingdom, and a position of warmth in Silas’ daughter’s heart. Roll in palace intrigue, near-Shakespearean power plays, flowing, rich language the likes of which is NEVER heard on broadcast TV, a pair of Greek-chorus-lite Palace guards, illegitimate love-children, and God-given destiny to rule, and you have appointment television, for me anyway. Sure, we all know how it ends, but that doesn’t stop it from being immensely compelling as a piece of art.
And apparently only me. It was, of course, yanked from it’s initial timeslot after three weeks, relegated to 8 PM Saturday, and then off the air completely until 10 PM Saturdays in June, the very definition of being burnt off by the network.
An enormous shame, I imagine I’ll grab the DVDs.
At first glance, yet ANOTHER cop drama, set in New York, with a wacky cast of characters. But it works, somehow, mostly in creating characters who feel both familiar and fresh at the same time. Also, the near complete absence of ordinary, boring ‘cases’ each week, and the prevalence of laughs throughout – a change from your typical New York cop drama. The cast is also essential in elevating what could be ordinary into something more. Amber Tamblyn is excellent as the focal point, the token newcomer through which we experience the zaniness of the precinct. But she’s also hiding a secret, in that she’s actually a rich heiress trying to make a real life for herself away from her family. Adam Goldberg and Harold Perrineau (who I kinda couldn’t stand by the end of his time on Lost, but who pretty much totally redeems himself here) are fantastic as the odd couple partner team: Goldberg is hiding the fact that he’s got a brain tumour (for which he’s avoiding treatment) and about 9 months to live, while Perrineau is obsessed with the fact that men in his family tend to die (naturally or otherwise) at 42, and his 42nd birthday was three months ago, so he wears a bulletproof vest 24/7, among other things. One man terrified to die, one resigned to it, both hilarious.
It’s a cop show in as much as it happens to be set in a police precinct and it gives motivations for these characters to encounter colourful situations. If tax accountants could chase down felons in hot dog costumes, it could be set there too, but people are against it on principle (as I, admittedly, may have been before checking deeper) as ‘just another cop show’. It falls into the “Cavemen” school of automatic disdain: supposed forward-thinking, media-and-entertainment-savvy types who claim to value good entertainment who disparage a thing simply because of what it is rather than how it plays out. (Cavemen was hilarious, Geico ad origins or not, and I defy anyone who ACTUALLY watched more than the leaked pre-air pilot to argue me otherwise. I may suffer slings and potential career peril in television writing someday down the road for admitting that, but I stand by it.)
And of course The Unusuals is, also, suffering ratings-wise, beaten out by the pedestrian Castle and the remake of Cupid, though the fact that ABC gave it a flier after Dancing with the Stars this past week was a mildly positive sign (even if it didn’t exactly soar).
And this brings me to a larger point. Does it say anything about my possible success in fields such as advertising or television, or hell, even political communications (all options being explored right now) if my tastes lie so frequently outside the popular norms? Will it negatively impact the view of me from the outside, say from a potential employer that expects me to produce material that appeals to mass audiences, that I enjoy things and try to promote/champion things that so often fail from a lack of popular support? Does it mean that I am actually out of touch with how the average person thinks, despite the fact that I try to work in fields that specifically cater to attracting popular attention? Is it a poor idea to even say these things out loud?
I, of course, think that I’m safe. I think my rarefied (to sometimes put it mildly) tastes simply mean that I have an eye for quality, and can then strive to produce it myself. But in a world where Two and a Half (Frigging) Men is one of the most popular things on TV, what does ‘quality’ even mean?
(And this is without even touching on Better Off Ted, one of the funniest sitcoms I’ve seen in a while, easily the funniest to premiere since 30 Rock – and of course, it’s probably gone this year too.)