Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Lot to Be Grateful For: TV Viewers Get an Early Thanksgiving

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on May 17, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.   

The cast of Cougar Town

Last week’s episode of ABC’s Cougar Town opened with a scene with Jules (Courtney Cox), Laurie (Busy Philips) and Ellie (Christa Miller) suddenly wondering aloud why they didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving together this year. In fact, Cougar Town had an extended hiatus this year, after being bumped first from a September launch and pushed back even further in November in order to make room for some ABC’s new comedies. In the end, Cougar Town’s third season only premiered in mid-February – making a Thanksgiving or Christmas episode effectively impossible this year. Jules however offered a solution: they would celebrate Thanksgiving in May. The episode (titled “It’ll All Work Out") was one of the season's best, playing off the always surprisingly deep relationships that have developed among this handful of goofy characters, and highlighting everything that makes the show such a pleasure to watch. But more than that, it hit home for me.

May is traditionally the month when the networks firm up their schedules for the coming television season and the fates of the current shows are finally confirmed. Last year at this time, I was mourning NBC’s decision to cancel Outsourced, one of my favourite new comedies of the year. The year before, we lost Victor Fresca’s delightfully original Better Off Ted and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. And in May 2009, NBC announced it would not be renewing Life. For an avid TV fan, in short, May is rarely a good month. But for the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling something I don’t normally feel in the month of May: grateful. And so when Jules and the rest of the Cul-de-Sac Crew sat around the table last week and reflected on how much they have to be thankful for, it was hard for me not to join in.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fringe: This is the Way the World Ends (Again)

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on May 9, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.   

David Noble, Joshua Jackson, and Anna Torv star in Fringe

I’ve been watching Fringe for years, even since it premiered on Fox in 2008, but I’ve never written about it. Now – with the fourth season finale set to air this Friday and with the recent surprise announcement of a fifth and final season – seems like an ideal time to weigh in on a show that has grown into the most consistently entertaining science fiction series currently on network television.

Fringe is essentially a sci-fi procedural that follows a small FBI team – Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), a civilian consultant Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson, Dawson’s Creek), and his father, research scientist Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) – in their investigation of paranormal occurrences, which often turn out to be science experiments gone awry (the results of so-called “Fringe” science.) When Fringe premiered, the comparisons to X-Files were obvious: a Fox series involving two paranormal investigators working with the FBI tracking monsters or strange diseases every week, with a slowly burgeoning romantic tension between our lead characters. The superficial parallels were self-evident – and likely intentional on the part of Fringe’s creators J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci (all of whom also worked on Alias) – but it would be several seasons before Fringe would rightly earn the X-Files banner – learning all the right lessons from the earlier series, and even exceeding it in many ways.