Hello again! With this edition of “Don’t Touch That Dial,” we’re dealing with comedies and supernatural dramas. Two of the shows are Canadian imports that have already finished their seasons in the Great White North, but I’m playing by the American schedule so midseason premieres they are. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to turn off the TV for the first time in two months and take a walk outside….
Be warned, a lot of these mini-reviews contain moderate SPOILERS. Nothing worse than what you’d get by checking out the show’s summary on its network site, but still, don’t come into this post expecting to keep your televisual virginity intact.
The Road So Far: Sterling Archer is one of the two top spies at ISIS in the adult, anachronistic, animated show Archer (FX, Thurs 10p—season 4 Jan 17). He works for his mother, a sullen drunk, and with ex-girlfriend Lana Kane and sundry other weird, creepy, pervy psychos as they travel around the world fighting supervillains, getting wasted, and having untold amounts of very disturbing sex. The start of season 4 has Archer suffering from amnesia and working at Bob’s Burgers (yes, from the FOX show, and it’s funny because H. Jon Benjamin voices both characters), Malory is now married—to Ron Cadillac, Cadillac King of New York—and Krieger has turned Gillette into a cyborg.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: It’s no secret that I love this show. Hearing H. Jon Benjamin say “Danger Zone” live is one of the highlights of my life, and if I shaved I’d say “My veal is as smooth as a vulva cutlet” every damn time. Few shows can carry the weight of having an interesting story and entertaining characters while being a high-volume joke delivery machine, but Archer manages it in spades. The animation is delightfully retro, in a Mad Men meets 1980s action movie kinda way. Half the time the computers are room-sized monstrosities and the other half they’re like DOS’ idiot cousin. The Bond movies aren’t just being parodied; the show wallows in Bond’s double entendres like a pig in mud, and I mean that in the best way.
Thus far the show has remained more or less a collection of standalone eps, but with the Big Reveal about where Barry’s been holed up all this time (and as detailed by showrunner Adam Reed’s pre-season interviews), season 4 is going to be more serialized. Shows like this—meaning comedies, but more specifically animated comedies—have a hard time with shifting the focus from the jokes to the over-arching plot, but if anyone can marry the two it’s Reed.
TL;DR: Archer: “Lana. Lana! LANA!!!” Lana: “WHAT?!?” Archer: “Danger Zone.”
Being Human (US)
The Road So Far: The US remake of Being Human (SyFy, Mon 9p—season 3 Jan 14) is the story of three strangers picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives aired on Syfy to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. The heart of the show revolves around the trials and tribulations of a trio of supernatural friends—a 200-year-old vampire named Aiden, a Jewish werewolf named Josh, and the ghost of a murdered girlfriend named Sally—all living together in Boston. At the start of season 3, 15 months have passed since the incidents in the closing scenes of the finale. Josh has been re-humanized, but Nora still wolfs out. Sally’s caught in limbo (which apparently consists of reliving your death and running down poorly filmed streets to yank on locked doors) with two dudes whose names I can’t remember, and Aiden is reenacting Angel’s season 4 burial at sea except he’s stuck in about 2 feet underground with an ugly fake beard. There’s also a new virus/flu/thingummy killing off vampires (I don’t even know anymore) because that’s a thing and it has never happened before in the entire history of vampires. Or something.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: At first glance, Being Human sounds like the premise of a bad joke: a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost walk into a bar… But where the British series makes it very clear very fast that their show wants desperately to be directly related to Angel season 5, the American version is like the abandoned hellspawn born of Angel season 1 and Dark Angel. That’s not to say that the original version is great TV. True, the British version is better than the American remake, but given the state of Syfy’s version, everything’s better than it simply by default. The British version was a lot like Supernatural—dark, frightening, funny, and anchored by a trio (later, quartet) of charming, charismatic, and interesting actors and characters. Even when the stories fell flat, Mitchell, George, Annie, and Nina made the experience less painful. (I don’t care what BBC airs. For me, the British series ended with season 3 and nothing you say will convince me otherwise.) The American version is poorly written, poorly acted, poorly shot, poorly edited, and, above all else, reeeeeeeeeally boring.
Few shows can be both well-crafted and portray emotionally powerful character relationships. Most only have one or the other on display, and that’s fine. I tend to veer toward interesting characters and their interactions with each other, but that’s not to say I don’t also enjoy watching Law & Order marathons. It’s when a show fails to entertain through either its plot or its characters that I lose patience. I thought Continuum annoyed me with its boringness until I caught up with Being Human (US). I feel like the entire show is a series of second drafts. Like the first day is spitballing a bunch of random ideas, the second day one of the writers jots them down in teleplay format, and by day three the actors are on set and cameras are rolling. I haven’t seen every single episode, but what I have seen was enough to get a strong handle on what the show is. And what it is is boring as hell. The only high point was Mark Pellegrino’s stint as season 1’s Big Bad. After his death, he turns up as Aiden’s sassy hallucination, so basically Lucifer from season 7 of Supernatural. If Mark Pellegrino can’t rescue a show, there’s definitely a problem. Making it worse is its painful spot in the schedule. Syfy squashed it between Lost Girl and Continuum, two shows that also fail at living up to the high expectations of their premises, but do it with a helluva lot more flair and oomph.
TL;DR: Shame on you, Jeremy Carver and Anna Fricke. Shame on you.
The Road So Far: Kiera Cameron is a cop from a dystopian 2077 Vancouver in Canadian-import Continuum (SyFy, Mon 8p—series premiere Jan 14). North America (and presumably the world) is under the powerful and extensive control of several corporations following countries going bankrupt triggered by the 2008 economic crash. A band of Canadian rebels calling themselves, of all things, Liber8 are captured after a WTC-like attack. Before they can be group-executed their leader uses a heretofore unknown technology to send his group, Kiera, and anyone else caught in the blast radius back to 2012. Kiera meets Alec, a kid who will later grow up to establish the major tech conglomerate Sadtech (yes, that’s really what it’s called) and fuel the corporate takeover, thus creating a paradox of Looper-like proportions.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: There were several times this season where I almost went blind from rolling my eyes so much. I kid you not, at one point in the first ep Kiera actually says the line, “I’ve said too much already.” No one asks her for ID. Ever. Or runs her through AFIS. Or, hell, even Googles her. No one questions why a Portland detective is in Canada without clearance, or how she has unlimited resources, funds, and information access. She just waltzes onto a crime scene and everyone is totally cool with it. The coroner agrees to let her take a major piece of evidence—a dead body—off site simply because she arbitrarily declares it classified. She’s let onto a specially created task force, and despite the fact that the Canadians think the case is international, no one invites the CIA or the CSIS. There’s suspension of disbelief, there’s hanging a lampshade on a plot hole, and then there are shows like Continuum which require you to ignore everything you know about how the world works and how its inhabitants behave.
Last fall while reviewing Grimm, I wrote “Grimm could be a good show. It certainly isn’t a bad show. Heck, I burned through most of the first season while doing laundry one Sunday afternoon. Couldn’t tell you much about what happened…but it was on and it wasn’t distracting enough to require constant attention or offensive enough that I had to turn it off.” The same can be said of Continuum. It isn’t offensive, nor inoffensive. It doesn’t try to be a great show, and isn’t bad enough for schadenfreude (à la The Cape). The dialogue is high school English class quality, the plots mediocre at best, and I’ve seen better acting in infomercials. Lost Girl has the benefit of combining likeable characters and great outfits with an interesting premise. Continuum has all the premise and none of anything else to make a decent or entertaining show. Granted, the show gets better as it ages, but when you’re starting off that low, you can make great strides and still be below average. Maybe they’ll sort themselves out by the second season.
TL;DR: So, that pretty much leaves my choices for Monday night viewing come down to Continuum, Bones, How I Met Your Mother, Being Human, and Duck Dynasty. Fantastic.
The Road So Far: Bo is a succubus and the titular Lost Girl (SyFy, Mon 10p—season 3 Jan 14) in this Canadian supernatural drama. She was abandoned by her mother (and later almost killed by her), lost the loves of her life, and nearly lost herself in the Great Faerie War of season 2, but with the new season comes new challenges. The old Ash is gone and Hale the siren cop has taken his place. Dyson has regained his love for Bo, but his delay pushed her into the arms of Hot Doctor Lauren. Kenzi isn’t who she seems, and the Morrigan is out for blood. And Bo must deal with all this and her own personal discoveries and global catastrophes.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A few months ago I was trawling through Netflix Watch Instantly for a new TV show to watch during the winter television break, when I came across a show about risque, over-sexed Canadian faeries. If you know anything about me by now, you’ll know even the slightest possibility of magic sex is enough to make me tune in. By the end of the first ep I was hooked, and breezed through the rest of the season in a few days. If ever there was a show built for marathoning, it’s this one. But somewhere around the halfway point of season 2, I realized I was spending more time dicking around on Tumblr instead of paying attention to the show when it was on. Just before the start of season 3, I rewatched the first few eps of season 1 and caught what I missed before, what with all the sexy sex: the show really isn’t as great as I thought.
Like Continuum, and to a much smaller extent Being Human (US), Lost Girl is an exercise in failing upward. It has a great premise—that the faerie world is divided into light and dark and Bo, who was born neutral, must find a way to function in both worlds without pissing off either side or alerting the humans to their existence, plus succubus sex—but neither the scripts nor the acting can ever come anywhere close to matching it. Lost Girl can’t get past the camp and Monster of the Week mysteries (which never ascend to anything higher than something you’d see on Scooby Doo). Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer if it never got any better than the first two seasons. It takes itself too seriously when it should chill out, yet simultaneously relies too much on bad jokes when it should be grittier. What keeps me coming back are the characters and their relationships with each other. I’m emotionally invested in Bo and Dyson (not as much as Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt, because OH MY GOD), Kenzi and Hale are a ton of fun, and even characters as quiet as Lauren and Trick are still intriguing. I could take or leave the silly plots and the trying-too-hard mythology. At this point it’s all about the people, and it does them pretty well. But the best part is how the show treats diversity and sexual fluidity. Neither are on display or treated like tokens or fetishes. People are who they are and everyone is completely accepting of that without even being aware of it. Refreshing, that.
TL;DR: Much of my annoyance with the show could stem from the episode titles. Listen, Canada. Between Lost Girl and Continuum, I’m declaring a moratorium on pun-based episode titles. You’ve been warned.
The Road So Far: Childhood friends Shawn and Gus run a fake psychic consultation business in Psych (USA, Tues 10p—season 7 Feb 27). Using training he learned from his cop dad, Shawn notices things other people don’t and pretends to have psychic visions in order to play cop without actually having to go through the training. Detectives Lassiter and O’Hara turn to Shawn and Gus for help solving Santa Barbara’s toughest cases (that says a lot more about the SBPD than anything else), and somehow those meddling kids still manage to save the day despite all the wacky hijinks that happen along the way. At the end of season 6, Shawn finally moved into adulthood by embarking on a real relationship with Juliet, while his dad quit the force after a loss of faith. And Gus ate more M&Ms than is humanly possible.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: I watched the last half of the most recent season in prep for this post, and I honestly have no memory of any of it. I loved the show when it first came on, then life got in the way and I moved on to other interests and forgot all about Psych. Not until someone mentioned the show in the comments of my 2012 “Warm Glowing Warming Glow” post did I even remember the show existed. I had to look it up to be sure it hadn’t been canceled ages ago, but no, there it was, still going strong. I get why people like Psych, just like I get why people watch Suits or White Collar or Royal Pains or The Glades or any other mid-level cable show. They’re all pretty much the same: attractive people in attractive locales tackling easily solved mysteries while cracking jokes that mistake wit for cleverness.
I like the cast well enough (even if every time I see Timothy Omundson I think Luck of the Irish, and I’m so sorry about that, Omundson), but there isn’t enough of their interactions in any given ep for me to latch onto, and no, 42 minutes of cracking jokes does not constitute interpersonal relationships. Psych wants to be entertaining, and it goes out of its way to make sure I know that I’m supposed to be entertained. The jokes are calculated to be the exact level of “humorous” required to please focus groups and network execs, which leaves the show funny but ultimately forgettable.
TL;DR: Look, I can’t hate on this show, I’m way too indifferent to muster any strong feelings either way. If my internet went down, I didn’t have any books to read, my DVD player was busted, it was raining and my car was in the shop, and there was nothing else on TV, then sure, I’d watch it. But I’m not going out of my way to track it down. It’s just not the show for me, but I won’t hold it against you for enjoying it.
Community (NBC, Thurs 8p—season 4 Feb 7): Because every day is October 19, I reviewed this show last fall. The Dan Harmon-less season 4 is struggling, mostly because showrunners Port and Guarascio are aping Harmon rather than creating their own show. What’s left is a show that seems to have forgotten that pop culture references aren’t jokes and that parodies aren’t scathing satire. But hey, it’s still streets ahead of every other sitcom out there.
Defiance (SyFy, Mon 9p—series premiere Apr 15): Alien refugees land on Earth and find its inhabitants unwelcoming. A protracted war leaves the planet scorched and dangerous. Ex-soldier Jeb returns to St. Louis to find it reduced to a tent city called “Defiance,” and takes up the role of sheriff set on keeping the peace between aliens and humans. It could be something akin to Hell on Wheels, a dark, wild ride, or it could be Being Human. Who am I kidding, this is Syfy. It’s going to be like Being Human.
Game of Thrones (HBO, Mon 9p—season 3 Mar 18): If you’re one of the three people left in the world who hasn’t seen the new trailer, well, today is your lucky day. And the answer is yes, you should be watching this show, so hop to it. You’ve got just under three weeks to catch up to the rest of us.
Alex Brown is an archivist, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.