Friday, June 25, 2010

Five Cancelled TV Shows You Should Watch

Gone are the days of television producers holding out for that mythical 100th episode in order to guarantee a syndicated afterlife following cancellation. With DVD rentals, Netflix and, On-demand services from your cable provider, and entire cable channels devoted to running and rerunning every old TV show ever produced, no TV show is ever truly gone.

Even so-called failed shows, shows with no ratings and a single season (or half season) run, can have real impact, often years after airing only a few episodes on broadcast TV. Shows like Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks, Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night, or Joss Whedon’s Firefly can meet untimely ends, but still stick around long enough to find their audiences, sometimes 10 years after their cancellation. Some of these shows were ahead of their time, some were just too idiosyncratic to find their audiences, many were ambitious and brilliant but flawed, and others just aired in the wrong timeslot or on the wrong channel.

Today I’m looking at 5 recent additions to the list of my favourite ‘failed’ shows. I’ll be sticking with shows of 1-hour length, and leave the sitcoms to a future post.

Monday, June 14, 2010

True Blood: Fear and Trembling on the Bayou

Last night, HBO’s True Blood returned from its long sleep. In September 2009, the show about vampires in a small Louisiana town ended its second season on a high, firmly establishing itself as HBO’s most watched series since The Sopranos. The series, Alan Ball’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed and much beloved Six Feet Under (also on HBO), certainly owes some of its popular success to the recent pop cultural vampire phenomenon, but make no mistake: these are not your daughter’s vampires. The show is unabashedly sexual and graphically violent, often at the same time. Everything about it is excessive, and as a result, despite its ratings success, it tends to divide audience and critics alike. 

Set in fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana, the series is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries, a book series by Charlaine Harris. It’s been a couple of years since vampires have “come out of the coffin” so to speak, and they are struggling as a community with issues of bigotry and integration. Though placing it in the South brought to the fore much of the allegorical weight of those themes, the first season played out mainly like a supernatural whodunit, as the town hunts a serial killer in its midst. Along with the growing mystery, we met our main players: Sookie Stackhouse, a mind-reading bar waitress, played by Anna Paquin; Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), a Civil War-era vampire returning to his home town after over a century; Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten), Sookie’s randy but slow-witted brother; and Sam Merlotte, the owner of the bar, with thinly-concealed feelings for Sookie and a secret of his own, played by Sam Trammell.

When the show premiered in 2008, I watched the first several episodes largely as a guilty pleasure. Though invariably fun and playfully shocking, it initially suffered poorly in comparison to both the exquisiteness of Ball’s Six Feet Under and to the more emotionally and narratively ambitious TV vampire fare like Joss Whedon’s Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. But by the end of the first season, the show had successfully found itself on its own terms, and its second season played out with renewed focus.