Fall Television “Preview”: Four series with problems to solve

With September upon us, the fall television season is just around the corner. At random times over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some preview-like pieces about what is to come over the next few months. Just like last year, I haven’t seen any of the season’s new series – no pilots or anything. Thus, I’ll try to avoid making many baseless predictions and instead keep the discussion focused on questions I have. This is also the reason for quotes around preview. Anyway, you get it.

I wanted to kick off the “preview” with a quick look at some returning series that have major challenges to overcome if they want to return to their respective former glories. Some of these issues can be easily fixed and others have more of an uphill battle. Again, even though I haven’t seen any new episodes of these series, I’ll throw out a percentage of chance that they make it work this fall.

Sons of Anarchy

The problem: Structure, pacing and form prioritized over character, logic

Season three of SoA was basically a disaster, I think we most of us would agree on this as a fact. My biggest problem with the series last season is that the structure and the form of things took much larger precedent over the characters and their typically-raw emotions and decision-making. Too much of the narrative was dedicated to getting Abel back, except that it simultaneously took way too long to actually to the getting him back part that much of the season felt like a waste. Interesting supporting characters were shoved aside or used as plot devices and most egregiously, the series lacked energy. For a story about aggressive, somewhat insane bikers, losing a baby didn’t raise as much of a stir as it should have. The characters spent so much time plotting how to get Abel back that they forgot how to express emotions about how the child’s abduction made them feel.

Kurt Sutter had a very purposeful construction of the season and worked to/from that point, but that approach doesn’t fit this world and these characters well. I know he attacked many critics for not be willing to accept changes, but when changes don’t work we cannot avoid them. I applaud taking the risk, but the execution was just not there.

Chances this problem gets solved: 80 percent

My confidence in Sutter and Sons of Anarchy mostly stems from the fact that the season starts tonight and most of the reviews have been positive. Moreover, I actually think Anarchy can be fixed relatively easily. The first two seasons balanced the internal/external conflicts much better and if this season tends to highlight the struggles within Charming and the club, the series will be fine. Last season ended on a grounded note that suggested more internal conflicts to come and I have to imagine the series will follow up on those. I never thought Sons of Anarchy was that amazing to begin with, so I’ll be happy with a solid return to season two levels.

House

The problem: Filling the Cuddy void, staying relevant

I’m one of the last remaining House apologists on the internet and even I am somewhat exasperated by its continued existence. I’m a human being so I obviously adore Hugh Laurie, but the series didn’t really need to come back for another season, especially if it meant not having its female lead. I liked, but didn’t love the series’ handling of House and Cuddy’s romantic relationship and did feel a stronger affinity for the seventh season’s story once they broke up. Yet, I don’t really know where the series goes from here and how it exists without Cuddy. If I still had confidence in the writing staff to pen scripts that interrogated ethical and moral quandaries like House did so beautifully in its early days, I’d be cheering for no more Cuddy. But the series is little more than a wonky workplace dramedy at this point and losing Cuddy means losing one of the best people for House to bounce off of while at work.

Chances this problem gets solved: 20 percent

House is on its last, severely damaged leg. The supporting characters are awful and worse, awfully boring and starting the season with House in prison isn’t as compelling or innovative as the writers and FOX promo department wants us to think it is. I’ll be watching, but probably be asking myself why most of the time.

How I Met Your Mother

The problem: A lack of forward momentum, pathos

I feel like a broken record bringing this up again, but the How I Met Your Mother writers are still confused about what made – and didn’t make – their series so great for a couple seasons. The identity of the mother has been like a massive anchor holding the narrative and the lead character down for too long, but the series still likes screwing with the audience as if it were the first half of the first season. Again, I don’t actually care who the mother is, I just care about how long dragging out the revelation makes Ted look as a character. He can’t be an insufferable douche forever and he certainly can’t date women that the series outwardly admits are not the mother forever. There’s only so much of “it’s all about the journey” that I can swallow, especially when it drags down the whole series. Somewhere along the way, HIMYM turned away from the big, sweeping emotional moments and started to rely on hackneyed traditional sitcom tropes and even when the writers try to go back to those monumental events like Barney finding his dad, they can’t quite touch the same buttons anymore. It’s like they are incapable of doing so.

Chances this problem gets solved: 45 percent

I still have some faith in HIMYM. Last season wasn’t dreadful until the final handful of episodes and I’m hoping that the two-year renewal means that Craig Thomas and Carter Bays have actually sat down and planned out an arc for these 44+ episodes. These guys have a knack for saying all the right things, but I’m still a bit worried that they will get lost in their “mythology” and whose wedding is whose and whatever other nonsense is supposed to “begin” in the season premiere. I still love these characters and I’m still hoping they start acting like real people again.

Glee

The problem: Spectacle, guest stars, music, etc. prioritized over character, coherency

This is all obvious to anyone who watched Glee. Outside of a small handful of standout individual episodes, Glee’s second season was dreadful at worst and just barely above boring at best. I understand all the reasons why there was even more music, even more guest stars and a few more theme episodes in season two. Business is business. However, the small glimmers of hope found in “Duets” or “Silly Love Songs” have me holding out hope that Glee can put some of those sweeteners away and focus on consistency. In fact, the existence of those episodes makes Glee even more frustrating to watch. There are regular hints of quality, but the writers can never pull it together for more than episode at a time. If some characters are graduating, the series does need to pull back on the theme episodes and random guest stars and give them moderately successful swan songs.

Chances this problem gets solved: 0 percent

Sure, Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk have been saying all the right things about going back to basics and focusing on character. And sure, they’ve hired a half-dozen new writers to help with the load and presumably to help make the series more coherent. But Murphy and company also have to work in FOUR new characters from The Glee Project, figure out some way to graduate at least some of the current kids, introduce Sue’s political hopes, keep the Will and Emma ship floating just above water and make the competition framework more impactful. I’m literally laughing at the prospects of any of that working out well for Glee in its third season.

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2 thoughts on “Fall Television “Preview”: Four series with problems to solve

  1. Great piece and I agree with most of your points. But I’d like to add two more shows:

    – Dexter: After a terrific Season 4, and a shocking finale, Season 5 was a big disappointment. The season ended with one of the biggest WTF moments, Deb ALMOST discovering Dexter’s secret….again!

    Going into Season 6, it’s crucial that the series does something to make viewers believe there’s some sort of danger for Dexter. I’m also uneasy about this season’s theme, which is religion. Sure it could be good…but than again, it could back-fire in a big way.

    Dexter is wearing thin on a lot of people. They can only go so long with the status-quo.

    – Nurse Jackie: Much like Dexter, the anti-hero seems to always JUST get away from getting discovered. What’s most frustrating with Nurse Jackie is that they ruined all development in Season 2 by throwing it in the garbage. Literally! Throwing her urine sample in the trash, and making Kevin the “bad guy” was frustrating.

    Season 3 of Nurse Jackie, something big has to happen. Something…anything!

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