Saturday, March 31, 2012

Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 and Bent: Comedy is Alive and Well in the Midseason

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on March 31, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.  

Krysten Ritter and James Van Der Beek in Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23

With the television season running year-round these days, the midseason is no longer the networks’ dumping ground for shows not strong enough to make the cut in the fall. Today I’m looking at two new, but very different comedies which more than prove the point that great television doesn’t always begin in September. (Let’s not forget that Parks and Recreation and even All in the Family were midseason replacements when they were first launched!) ABC’s Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 will premiere on April 11, and NBC’s Bent is already more than halfway through its short, six-episode freshman season.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dirk Gently and the Fundamental Interconnectedness of All British TV

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on March 24, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.  

Stephen Mangan and Darren Boyd star in Dirk Gently, on BBC Four

Adapting beloved literary characters to television is a risky business. Often, though, it is a risk well worth taking, as in Steven Moffat’s sublime variation on the classic Conan Doyle characters and stories in Sherlock, which recently aired its second season. This year, the BBC tries its hand at another generation’s literary hero: Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently. The TV version of Dirk Gently first saw the light of day as a 60-minute test pilot that aired in December 2010. Commissioned for a three-part series a few months later, the first new episode premiered on BBC Four on March 5 and its third and last episode aired just this past Monday. With Gently, the result is less explosive than with Sherlock, but then again, the show is working with a smaller palette (smaller budget, and a half hour less screen time per episode – a Gently episode is 60 minutes, while Sherlock episodes run 90) and a much more restricted canon. On the other hand, Moffat was hardly the first to adapt the great detective, and Dirk Gently hasn’t (yet!) been immortalized as a puppet on Sesame Street. Adams’ fans have reason to be apprehensive, and when it comes to this new series, it is really a matter of balancing expectations.

Less of an adaptation of the wickedly funny novels than a new work inspired by the tone, themes, and characters of the two Dirk Gently novels – Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987) and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988), Douglas Adams’ follow-up to his immensely popular The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels – the new series follows the adventures of Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan), part hapless private detective and part conman, and his put-upon sidekick, Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd). The show’s creator, Howard Overman, clearly has no ambition to literally translate the novels to the small screen, and the series genuinely succeeds in capturing the spirit, if few of the details, of Adams’ stories.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

NBC’s Awake: It’s Mourning in America

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on March 8, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.  

Jason Isaacs stars in Awake, on NBC

Tonight, NBC will air the second episode of Awake, its new fantasy-crime drama from writer/creator Kyle Killen. Awake tells the story of Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), a police detective finally returning to work after surviving the tragic car accident which claimed the life of Rex, his teenage son (Dylan Minnette). Or was it his wife, Hannah (Laura Allen) who died that night? Actually, it was neither. Or, perhaps more precisely, both. As we quickly discover, Britten has been living in two realities since night of the accident: he goes to bed at night with his wife sleeping beside him, and wakes up the next morning in bed alone, with his son sleeping down the hall. The series follows Britten as he slips back and forth between these two universes, one in which his son is mourning the loss of his mother and another in which his wife is mourning the loss of their son. It is an ambitious and challenging premise, and it was masterfully executed, in writing, acting, and direction – and if the pilot is any indication, it promises to be one of the most ambitious and creative new dramas of the television season.