Archive for twin peaks

Party Like It’s 1990 Time

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, Reviews, TV channels, TV History, TV News with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2015 by Tom Steward

90s TV is back in vogue, appropriately enough. Twin Peaks is soon to be revived in such exacting detail that Showtime even sought to bring back David Lynch’s fights with the network. Cali has been fornicated enough by David Duchovny – and his series Californication has been cancelled – while Gillian Anderson appeared to be getting her life together but is going back to her abusive ex; thus The X-Files is returning to Fox, it now seems as a replacement for the network’s all-too-rare new-thing-that-people-like Empire. Even The CW’s version of The Flash recently featured Mark Hamill reprising his role as The Trickster from the original early 90s live-action TV adaptation, now father to the heir to his title, allowing the Star Wars actor to cathartically wail the words that every kid in a Darth Vader mask has been saying to him since 1980.

That the decade that time did not give us time to forget is coming back to TV doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The 90s was when the cup of quality American television first runneth over, never to be empty again. Contemporary Hollywood is increasingly dependent on rebooting classic pop iconography. In fact, Hamill was filming his scenes as The Trickster at virtually the same time he was reviving Luke Skywalker for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But the choice of series has so far been disappointing. The 25-year gap in Twin Peaks was always part of the story, but in truth much of the second final season was completely unwatchable, with the Lynch-helmed finale the only saving grace (and he may not even be directing this time round). If the cast continue to protest Lynch’s absence, we may be looking at a spin-off about The Log Lady’s Log.

Everyone has signed back on for The X-Files but the series was to TV sci-fi what Judd Apatow is to movie comedy. The original series was a good few years too long, and that’s even before Billy Connolly came into the picture! Yes, TV needs more X-Files about as much as literature needs more books about killing heads of state written by Bill O’Reilly. Maybe it’s my comic apathy or that The CW’s demographic version of the flashing lifeclock from Logan’s Run has already gone off in the palm of my hand, but I found nothing to enjoy in The Flash to enjoy apart from Hamill’s scenery-chewing performance (forever to be known as ‘Hamillery’). So if there are any TV executives out there reading (either this blog or just in general) here are some 90s TV shows that are far more worthy candidates for revival:

Murder Three

'My blinds...LaPaglia!'

‘My blinds…LaPaglia!’

The first season of Steven Bochco’s Murder One was a compelling, narratively experimental, impeccably cast piece of TV drama. The second, which I will call Murder Two – not because the crimes prosecuted were lesser but because the quality was – proved altogether more formulaic, B-casted and conventional. Murder Three could right these wrongs. I foresee a pre-credits teaser in which respective season one and two leads Daniel Benzali and Anthony LaPaglia fight Sunshine Boys-like over the configuration of the furniture in the firm’s office, culminating in Benzali’s Teddy Hoffman throwing LaPaglia’s not-Teddy Hoffman out of the window, before lowering the blinds…and then peering through them ominously. We would revive the first season’s 23-episode serial arc, with a case that begins as Murder Three…and ends up as Murder One!

The Critic (Or It’s Not That Tough Being a Film Cricket)

Together at last!

Together at last!

At the time we might have thought that the 90s were the summit of all that was ridiculous about Hollywood movies. But given how extra inflated and predictable blockbusters have become since, surely Al Jean and Mike Reiss’ animated comedy about a TV film critic would now have plenty of kindling for the movie parody fire. Cancelled after one season, there’s still plenty to do with the format and reviving the character of the Ebert-like Jay Sherman would be a greater tribute to the late film critic than any statue.

Murder She Wrote

History's greatest serial killer!

History’s greatest serial killer!

Still alive and acting…all I’m saying.

Cop Rock: Laboured Musical Premise Unit

A spin-off of the quickly-cancelled musical police drama about a special team of cops who investigate off-colour musical episodes in other TV series.

Paulie Loves Pussy

A buddy comedy featuring Paulie Walnuts and Pussy Bonpensero from The Sopranos based on this HBO commercial:

We’d figure out the timeline stuff later!

The Cosby Show

I drank from the wrong glass...

I drank from the wrong glass…

Worth pitching just to see the look on the executives’ faces. ‘Drink this, Mr. Greenblatt’.

TV in Short

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, British Shows on American TV, Reviews, TV channels, TV Criticism, TV Culture, TV History, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2014 by Tom Steward

The significance and impact of American TV shows are usually measured by longevity since it takes an inordinate amount of public will, critical favour and cultural reputation to dodge cancellation year after year. But every so often a programme with a relatively short life on the air ends up being hugely influential in TV, art and culture. Premature cancellation often becomes part of the show’s cult – see Josh Whedon’s Firefly – or masks a rapid decline in quality that makes another season seem deeply undesirable. Either way, these programmes tend not to be cancelled before their time but are just way ahead of their time. It’s hard to see how many of these shows could go on but harder to imagine what future denizens of popular culture would have done without them as inspiration. Here are some TV shows with small runs that ended up being a big deal:

Freaks and Geeks (NBC, 1999-2000)

The future of American popular culture

A Wonder Years for the remaining 99.99999% of the American population that didn’t draw a life lesson from every single incident of their education, this stripped-back yet heart-warming look at high school from the perspectives of its most marginalised students lasted only one season on the air. But the show has sent ripples through American popular culture ever since. Producer Judd Apatow and stars Seth Rogen, James (Di optional) Franco and Jason Segal have completely sewn up US movie and TV comedy in the 15 years since the show aired and they now rank as some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Moreover, Freaks and Geeks incorporation of the socially outcast and physically different into mainstream teen television made a cultural phenomenon like Glee possible and the show’s unglamorous depiction of young Americans is the essence of Apatow and Lena Dunham’s hit HBO series Girls.

Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1991)

Like Laura Palmer Twin Peaks dies young.

Widely credited as the show that brought American TV into touch with fine art, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s sci-fi procedural super-soap also heralded a revolution in television storytelling. Melodramas such as Dallas and Dynasty had already shown that ongoing stories and cliffhanger endings weren’t an anathema to primetime popularity but Twin Peaks demonstrated that a single storyline could captivate audiences over a year of television. The question of ‘Who killed Laura Palmer?’ would have normally been answered in as little as 60 minutes of television but took over a year and half to be settled. Now detective programs all over the world from Denmark’s Forbrydelsen to Britain’s Broadchurch wear the season-long mystery as a badge of quality. In fact, it was only when Twin Peaks tied up the Laura Palmer case and pursued half-baked replacement storylines that the program was cancelled following its second season.

Cop Rock (ABC, 1990)

Cops Rock!

By 1990, producer Steven Bochco was already established as someone who mixed television genres but this medley of musical and police procedural was a step too far for most people when it aired. How times have changed. One of the biggest TV hits of recent years has been Glee, a high school dramedy liberally peppered with musical numbers and – as witnessed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and How I Met Your Mother – it’s long been considered de rigueur for TV shows to have a musical episode. Of course, it’s one thing to have a show whose premise falls naturally into song and another to try to crowbar music into a decidedly spoken-word genre. It’s also worth remembering that what viewers enjoy about one-off musical episodes is their novelty and Cop Rock was relentlessly musical. It’s maybe why the show never lasted beyond 11 episodes.

Doctor Who: The Movie (Fox, 1996)

Before Dr. Phil there was…

The long-running cult UK science-fiction series had been off the air for 7 years when Fox decided to revive it as a show that could live in America and alongside stylish adult science-fiction like The X-Files. The feature-length pilot tried to keep one foot in both camps, playing as a continuation of the series rather than an American re-make while changing some of the key aspects of the programme’s mythology. Consequently, the revival alienated both the fan base and new audiences and the pilot was never picked up. The people behind the re-launched UK version of the program were obviously not as turned off as viewers at the time. New Doctor Who has taken on many of the US re-vamps, including its romantic predilections, focus on special effects and elaborate set design, and these have helped make it the international hit it is today.

 

 

 

 

The End of TV?

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, Internet TV, Reviews, TV channels, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2013 by Tom Steward

I’ve just finished watching The Fall, BBC2’s new police drama miniseries. Or have I? The open-ended nature of the last episode watched had me rushing to IMDB to see if Netflix had failed to purchase the series’ remaining instalments. This being a fairly common occurrence with an online content provider which faces rights restrictions preventing them from making the latest episodes of TV series available to users. My online search concluded this was in fact the final episode and that this ending was considered ‘controversial’. The word used to describe an adverse response to something offensive or provocative having been done or said but now simply means that a lot of people with Twitter accounts don’t much like it. While searching, I found vigorous defences of the ending by creator Allan Cubitt on grounds of authenticity, arguing that the ambiguous ending gestured plausibly towards the ongoing difficulty of police work and the lengthy timeframes of major investigations. This made sense. The series regularly disturbed and played with the conventions of its genre. It puts The Fall in league with TV crime series like The Wire and The Shield which were equally determined to show policing as a messy, unresolved business.

‘This is DSI Gibson. Do we have an ending in custody?’

Case closed. But wait a minute. I’ve just read that the BBC has commissioned another series of The Fall to be broadcast in Autumn 2014. I’m assuming this will continue the story of the first series and not be a totally different crime drama under the banner of The Fall nor merely a new case for DSI Gibson. There is certainly precedent for these latter options in British crime miniseries. BBC1 multi-arm legal strip Criminal Justice created a completely new set of characters and storylines for its second run and there’s a tradition of detective dramas like Prime Suspect and Cracker holding on to their lead detective whilst continually updating the cases they investigate. It is, however, unheard of to not wrap up the previous case before moving on to the new one and if the next season of The Fall were to do this the show would be genuinely breaking new ground. So if it is to be a continuation, then the ending of the (first) series should be thought of as more of an end-of-season cliffhanger, a suspense-mongering technique designed to keep viewers hooked until its return-an echo of serial TV melodramas like Dallas-and only realistic by default.

Who Shot J.R.? Much difference?

I’m put in mind of another couple of TV finales which blur the boundaries between cliffhanger and open ending. The first of these is the final episode of Twin Peaks, which lies at the close of its second season on the air. The series ends on a note of uncertainty about the fate of its protagonist, Agent Cooper. Given that the show’s co-creator was avant-garde filmmaker David Lynch and that the programme was challenging and innovative in its storytelling, critics and audiences alike were quick to assume that the ending was a deliberate subversion of closure and resolution and an artistic statement on the nature of TV endings. This belies the fact that the ending was written in full expectation of a third season which an abrupt cancellation, following a drop-off in ratings and acclaim, put pay to. This suggests the season ending was meant to work as a cliffhanger in the manner of the previous season, which left the lives of most of the main characters dangling in the balance. This is not to say that the cliffhanger wouldn’t have been met with something surprising and original, as with the last one, but it still reeks of conventional storytelling.

Was the ending of Twin Peaks really breakthrough?

The second of these is the ending of The Sopranos, following six seasons and eight years on the air. A suspension of narrative closure in the form of a literal blackout, it too bore the label ‘controversial’ although ‘uniformly hated’ would be closer to the truth. I initially thought the ending a technical error on the digital station E4 where The Sopranos was first broadcast in the UK, having become accustomed to its legacy of transmission problems which routinely turned my screen ratios into accordions. Alas, the mistake was on the behalf of creator David Chase who had sacrificed all that was good about the show (music, character arcs, engrossing storytelling) for an arch and pretentious modernist gesture, which put art before content. Or so I first thought. The cynic in me now thinks that the ending was merely an arty smokescreen for the kind of cop-out ending that refuses to make any big decisions about the characters in order that the franchise may live on. Think David Chase is above this? Lest we forget Chase presided over the mid-90s spin-off TV movie series of The Rockford Files. It is only James Gandolfini’s death that renders a revival an impossibility.

Selling TV to Americans

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Internet TV, Reviews, TV channels, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2013 by Tom Steward

My unofficial job title for the last couple of months has been PR Officer for American TV. Recently I’ve been introducing G to a number of my favourite US TV shows using the vast-if routinely inaccessible-archive of programming on Netflix and HuluPlus as well as my DVD collection, which lies within a handful of colossal CD carry cases in an object-fetishist’s version of efficient storage. Some programmes sold themselves. It didn’t take long for G to figure out that Northern Exposure was an engaging, endearing and intelligently written piece of television and not the geriatric-baiting fodder she suspected. Despite its nausea-inducing camerawork, the viscerality, complexity and wit of The Shield also won G over instantly. But there was always a fly in the ointment, and in every application. G took issue with the titles of both shows, Northern Exposure for its meandering moose and The Shield for its kid-friendly jingle. I tried to explain that these were some of the most iconic and beloved aspects of these shows but it fell on deaf ears and blind eyes. Much as I love them, I can see why G thinks these gimmick-driven, one-dimensional titles might be doing a disservice to the shows.

‘Stupid moose’-G

But sometimes G’s sales resistance is difficult to break down. Her response to the Pilot of Breaking Bad was ‘That’s it?’. I wanted to argue with her but it did seem slight in comparison to later episodes and I didn’t think my observation that it was a ‘postmodern version of MacGyver would make it seem any more profound. Twin Peaks was apparently ‘all dialogue’, which is a new one for Lynch critiques, and only became visually stimulating when the donuts came out.  In these instances, I did what every good salesperson should and tried to associate the product with something the customer knows and likes. ‘It’s like Northern Exposure…but with murders’ I said of Twin Peaks. ‘It’s Malcolm in the Middle on meth’, I said of Breaking Bad. ‘You watch Malcolm in the Middle? What are you, 10?’ G responded. I guess my cold reading skills aren’t as good as I thought. Or maybe the prospect of Bryan Cranston in underpants isn’t as alluring to the rest of the world as it is to me.

Just me, then…

On other occasions I became a victim of my own salesmanship. I’ve managed to hook G on a hoard of arresting novelty shows that I’m fast losing interest in. This means I’m watching their tiresomely protracted runs again as exactly the point when I’ve given up on them. 24 and Damages are the chief culprits here, both of them wildly overlong elaborations on an initially brilliant premise. I didn’t think I could lose much more respect for 24 than had already gone but sitting through those final few seasons again with their automated scenarios and tedious twistiness I think it went subterranean. Worse, as the gruesome compulsion to clear all the episodes in as little time as possible accelerated, the show became like wallpaper in our house, an ever-present wall-adornment barely noticeable to our jaded eyes. G is still at the point in Damages where the promise of finding out what will happen in the ongoing story arc is yet to be beaten down by the knowledge of what does happen. But I can see this fading fast. G’s already worked out that they’re only keeping a serial story strand so as not to lose Ted Danson from the series.

A reason for sticking with Damages.

Although G came to Mad Men much later than me, thus allowing me to cherry-pick the most tolerable episodes from the dreary first few seasons, we’ve both turned sour on the series at about the same time. Actually, G got there first before I was willing to admit that the party was over. Midway through the most recent season, the sixth overall, I remember her asking ‘Where’s the advertising gone?’, which should have been enough of an alarm bell given that it’s the equivalent to Cheers forgetting to feature beer. For me, though, it was the sexual reunion of one of the series’ estranged couples that signalled the end of quality. Breaking a rule of good television established in Northern Exposure, it haphazardly thrust (in every sense of the word!) two characters together whose entire function was to carry the suggestion of romantic involvement without ever reaching that point. G turned to me the other day and said ‘I miss British TV’. I think it might be time to start offering a new product line.

 

If you like these blog posts why not follow my new twitter account @tvinaword where I create new words to describe TV shows. Send your own and if I like them I’ll retweet them!

TV Time

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV channels, TV Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2013 by Tom Steward

I’ve been (hardly) working my way through Breaking Bad, one of the more remarkable American TV shows of our time, and one of the most striking features of the series is its timeframe. Eschewing the TV rule of thumb that the time onscreen runs parallel with the duration of the initial broadcast, all 5 seasons of AMC’s family crime dramedy take place over the course of a couple of years (there’s a few episodes left but all indications are we’ll go no further ahead than that) effectively making the series a period piece by the time it finishes in 2013. This jeopardises Breaking Bad’s plausibility. The tectonic shifts in character and flurry of cataclysmic events which transform a high school chemistry teacher into an international druglord would be far more credible if spread over a vast number of years. Inside an 18-month window, it puts the series in the realms of bizarre melodrama. We also can’t take what happens to the characters as development as no-one has the luxury of time for any significant growth to occur. Instead, we’re witnessing how the cast of characters react to crises and trauma and watching them expose the existing depths of their personalities.

From Walter White to Heisenberg…in a year?

The time we watch TV is regulated and ongoing so it’s natural for most shows to try and match this for the sake of minimum disruption. Look how seasons of The Office begin with a re-cap of what happened to the characters during the Summer, when the show was off-air, simply to remind audiences that the onscreen and offscreen time syncs up and that the hiatus experienced by viewers was simultaneously endured by the characters. It’s especially important to make sure TV shows can capitalise on seasonally themed episodes (Christmas, Halloween) by juxtaposing them with the time they occur in the real world. Deviating from this scheduling ritual is a source of much innovation and originality in US TV. Unconventional uses of time can be the difference between cliché-ridded formula fare and mould-breaking masterpiece. People were happy to forget what a laboured potboiler 24 was because of its real-time season-as-a-day format and that the non-linear point-of-view narrated Boomtown was just another cancellation fodder cop show. It can even just be temporary relief from a format that is grindingly rigid in how it treats time. Brain-sparing cause-and-effect procedural CSI frequently throws in a flashback or reverse episodes to break the monotony.

Cliche + Time = 24

In a show like Breaking Bad, quirky time management isn’t the first blow of brilliance hitting you over the head but more like a gentle pat on the shoulder reassuring you of quality. If timing is the most noticeable characteristic of a programme, then chances are it will be a fast-fading novelty. 24 lasted 10 years on air but no-one in TV seems especially interested in using its format again. Boomtown was cancelled after 2 seasons once all possibilities of fragmented viewpoint-driven storytelling had been exhausted. On the other hand, it’s possible to watch the entirety of Twin Peaks and Deadwood without acknowledging how each episode crafts its multiple storylines into one day’s worth of time and lose nothing of their artistic brilliance. Indeed it seems perfectly in tune with Twin Peaks’ satire of soap opera and tendency towards the supernaturally fantastic that such an overwhelming wealth of events occur in a ludicrously short space of time. More than that, equating a single episode with 1 day has subsequently become TV’s way of making it seem like it’s running alongside everyday life. Unlike the patchy coverage we get from calendar-linked shows, here we never miss a minute of the action.

30 Days in the Life of Twin Peaks

It would be wrong to assume that US TV shows deal with time in a way that is abstract or avant-garde. Even the most altered state of TV time is highly structured and controlled. The dream world of Twin Peaks may have ruptured the show’s real world chronology but it was only ever there in the first place to plug a gap in the middle of the screenplay of the pilot. The spread of TV might be amorphous and ever-expanding but individual programmes and their runs are tightly timetabled and time within them needs to follow suit. It’s no coincidence that the innovations of time in TV storytelling have complimented the scheduling of the programme. US TV dramas are an hour fitted into a run of 21-25 hence a thriller set over 24 hours with each episode an hour. So is Breaking Bad doing something genuinely outlandish? Time will tell.

 

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