Last week’s premieres included two heavyweight shows for Fox and NBC. Monday night programming is always tricky, especially since the advent of reality competition shows. NBC uses The Voice to help propel a show they’ve been pushing hard at every Geek Con they could get to and Fox wants a show that can be strong enough to go head-to-head with Aforementioned “Singing” Competition and Dancing with the Stars. Did either pilot episode do the job they needed to do?
I’ll be rating each show using the following designations: Live! (a show I will try to watch every week), DVR/App (I like it, but can wait till the weekend to watch), Check Back (could be good, but I’ll wait a few weeks and see if it gets better before watching again) and Netflix (I’ll wait till the whole season is over before checking it out). I’m never going to suggest “not to watch” because shows can get better and my taste will not always be your taste.
The Mob Doctor
After a very successful TV show like House ends a long run, it’s always extremely hard to find the right project to fill the void. Fox needed to find something that fans who stayed with the medical drama for eight years would gravitate toward.
Even after the choice is made, a sort of desperation sets in– seemingly evidenced by the huge amount of Mob Doctor ads shown during Fox’s summer programming. This ad blitz really set me against the show before even seeing one minute of it. I don’t like mob shows in general and I don’t like shows that, in the ads, center around an unrealistic moral dilemma.
Given those strong feelings, I was just as surprised as you will be to learn I enjoyed the show. Well, three-quarters of it anyway.
If I thought there would be something to gain by doing it, I would lodge a false advertising claim against Fox with the FCC. While there was an “organized crime” element to The Mob Doctor… It was so slight I feel I must question its’ omnipresent existence in all the ads and even the show’s title. The series true core story surrounds a doctor willing to fight for her patients– even if the ethics dictate otherwise. Instead of being cold, distant, and cunning like Dr. Gregory House, Dr. Grace Devlin (played by Jordana Spiro) is just as intelligent– but more personable and caring. She’s a rebellious figure, in that she puts the patients’ needs first over the byzantine bureaucracy of the hospital she works for. (As a person who has been hospitalized frequently, I wish there were more doctors like Dr. Devlin.)
All this drama and intrigue makes for a great show… And did so for the majority of the first episode. But then some Producer (or, most likely, some Network Executive) must have decided a smart, in-your-face woman couldn’t possibly replace Hugh Laurie… So they threw a “hook” into the show. You can almost imagine a development meeting going something like this:
“We’ve got to make sure Men 18-49 watch this show. Anybody got any hooks we haven’t used to snag audience share lately? What do guys like? Guys like mobsters and guns? OK, let’s shove that into the show.”
The mob element accounts for no more than 10 to 15 minutes of the pilot episode and basically bookends the real premise. In fact, if you watched those summer ads I was talking about, you’ve essentially seen all the mob involvement in the pilot– minus a car chase between Grace and mob leader Moretti (Michael Rapaport)… Because, you know, driving at high speeds through Chicago streets is an obvious skill required of every modern-day surgeon.
Here is irrefutable evidence the mob element was not needed in this series, not planned and solely a device used to inveigle more men to watch. The setup here is Grace made a deal to protect her brother– by offering to help mobster Moretti. Then, after she refuses to kill a person during an operation– she runs to an ambiguous friend of the family, former mob kingpin Constantine Alexander (William Forsythe). When Moretti attempts to kill her, Constantine kills Moretti.
Whew! Thank goodness all that nastiness is over. The writers set up– then solved– the mob problem for Grace. So how could they continue to call the series The Mob Doctor?
Here’s how: The writer’s warp reality, forcing Grace to make a choice no sane person would contemplate. Even though Constantine is head of the mob again, he tells Grace he can’t protect her from all the other mobsters once affiliated with Moretti. So while the hit looks like pure Mob vs Mob violence– Grace makes the same bone-headed deal with Constantine… Ostensibly because she doesn’t want to flee the area and abandon her family.
What. The. Hell?!? They just took a show with the potential to match, if not surpass, the success of the medical drama they are replacing– even among men– and defecated on it with a contrived, pointless subplot. I hope some sort of change organically occurs and the mob element is played down enough to not overtake the show (but still gives a reason for the title). If I were forced to choose between The Mob Doctor and Monday Night Raw, it would be a tough choice– especially if the organized crime plots continue to detract from the real stories waiting to be told for Grace Devlin.
After this flip, flop and flip back again, I have to wonder if Dr. Devlin is as intelligent as Dr. House after all.
If you checked out last week’s Screen Burn Fall TV Premieres post , you may have caught the discussion about Revolution started by Ian. I do recommend checking it out (if you haven’t already) because there are some really good points made there– many I’ll expand upon in my own unique way.
This show gave me a lot of fodder for tweets on my @ScreenBurnIMJ account. (Ed. Note- If you’re not following W.D. on his Screen Burn account, you should be. Hit the link, the “Follow” button and enjoy his hilarious and pointed TV Tweets.) Of course, if I were watching Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Encounter at Farpoint” pilot for the first time, I would have had just as many things to tweet too. This comparison doesn’t excuse the fact there are problems within Revolution’s pilot (and the show structure itself)– but it does prove just how hard it is to start a speculative genre television show. Unlike novels where you have lots of time to world build, you only have that first episode to cram enough in for the viewer to believe in a particular reality and want to continue watching the series. It’s akin to trying to introduce the entire world of Harry Potter in a short story– putting in enough detail to make readers want to pick up the first novel.
Given all that, I’m going to be a bit more understanding here than I was with The Mob Doctor– but I’m not going to go easy either.
At a time when post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories are fighting with zombies as TV’s themes du jour– is it really any wonder NBC is attempting to capitalize on the craze? I think we would all be more surprised if some TV Network didn’t. And I can see why NBC Execs were pushing this show hard at Comic Con. I can also understand why it got great buzz from SDCC and other cons too– Revolution takes everything everyone loves about the dystopian theme and packs it all into one show.
Don’t like whiny teen protagonists? Like the fickle weather in New England, wait five minutes and this dystopian trope will change– to the seemingly mandatory rape attempt of some female character… Or the struggle of family bonds vs survival in a dog-eat-dog world… Or to action sequences involving whatever despotic power rules the world of these characters. I’m sure there were people who needed drool cups while watching Revolution… As it impaled the pleasure centers of the dystopian fan base almost non-stop.
To be fair, if you remove all these elements– there is a story to be told that has the possibility of getting better with age… Just like ST: The Next Generation.
The show’s strength lies in plot simplicity: Keep the bad guys from using power and electricity again. The show really needs nothing else because the struggles to accomplish this goal will easily fill many television seasons. It is exactly how all the Star Treks, Buffys, Fireflys, Fringes, Supernaturals, X-Files and other speculative shows became successful– they refined their ideas and turned them into compelling drama. (Go through some of the first seasons of these shows and really look at them… You can actually see the creative struggle on-screen– as show runners and writers attempt to refine and define the premise of each of these television series.)
To enjoy Redvolution’s first episode, you have to look past the plot holes… Like how can people walk (what seemed like hundreds of miles) to Chicago in less than two days… Or how the Uncle never met his niece before… Or the deus ex machina rich scenes of the asthmatic brother who is saved from a deadly asthma attack not once, but twice (one time after ingesting medicine from a 15-year-old inhaler). Then there was the Errol Flynn inspired sword fight– all it missed was someone sliding down a bannister or swinging across the hotel from a rope… Or other fan-service tactics like fudging ages so you can hire the most attractive young actors possible: The lead female looked to easily be at least 5 when the blackout occurred (which would make her an emotionally immature 20-year-old now) or she was an incredibly mature three-year-old (so the actress can still play a teen). In all cases, there’s plenty to pick at but there are also lots of things that could turn into something more solid and entertaining given time.
If all this doesn’t sound like it’s worth your time and trouble, you’re probably not going to miss much while the show takes time to mature. I’ll check back in several episodes to see if things have improved enough so Ian can watch an episode without suffering a stroke.
I honestly can’t think of a scripted SyFy show that was any good– even before they switched the spelling of their network’s name to bad text-messaging shorthand. Most of their reality shows aren’t much better, mainly because they are preoccupied with ghost hunting. But I love the series Face/Off. I’ve always had a thing for effects make-up, especially when I became more and more interested in Horror TV and Movies… And Face/Off is a very good show.
So I was actually happy to see the channel expand their “behind the scenes” concepts to include the challenges of set design. Having many theater friends in college, I’ve heard a lot about the complexities of doing it right. I’ve also been “back stage” many times and find the entire process just as interesting as special effects make-up.
Sadly, Hot Set mimics the Cupcake Wars format. Each week, two new contestants go head to head to decide a clear-cut winner (unlike the steady elimination competitions found in Face/Off.) Given the projects that drive Hot Set, this format decision makes complete sense. After all, it would be extremely unwieldy (and near impossible) to have ten different set designs critiqued in every episode. Still, I think this format also hinders the show. Unless you are really just in love the idea– or there is absolutely nothing else to watch at the time– there is no reason to come back to watch Hot Set every week. These kinds of competition shows are great for weekends and marathons when you want to kill time, since you don’t really need to pay attention. Just watch the beginning and end of each episode and your, ummm… All Set.
The Tuesday 10pm time period has hardly ever been the most exciting programming battleground, so Hot Set could indeed be a killer show for the network. But as interesting as the idea is, the setup for competitions seem to suck a lot of the fun out of the show.