Greetings all and sundry!
After putting the Holiday and New Year season safely behind. I’ve taken some time to settle in behind the television to enjoy and occasionally dissect the latest offerings of the major stations.
Any decent dissection is the natural offshoot of an in depth comparison and analysis in order to find a common thread or theme. And one doesn’t have to travel far to find one or more in the:
Early 2014 TV Season: The Same Thing… Only Different!
With the exceptional BBC mini-series, Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch as the latest incarnation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master sleuth knee deep in modernized crimes and dramas. Backed up by Royal Army medical Corp and Afghan veteran, John Watson. Played with low keyed and occasional comic relief by Martin Freeman.
The series basks in wondrously deft contemporary writing. With previous mysteries brought anew as only the British can. Adding such modern trappings as texts, tweets, laptops and social media to the mix. Saving time on screen for deeper character development and longer, more subtle interviews of witnesses and suspects than on this side of the pond.
Which became the impetus for two series from CBS. Person of Interest and Elementary. The former sports the criminally under rated, James Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, The Thin Red Line, Deja Vu) as former Army Special Ops guy, John Reese. Who is the very versatile dagger to the local cloak and Brainiac, Harold Finch. Marvelously quirky and eccentric Michael Emerson (Lost, The Return of the Dark Knight). Who may or may not have created the first generation of computers that knows all. Sees all. And may or may not be used for NSA surveillance today.
The computer spits out Social Security Numbers of random individuals which are deemed in dangers. And Resse, Finch and killed off way to soon, NYPD detective, Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson) and her partner, Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman). In a series which has managed to recreate the best parts of a previous 1980s classic, The Equalizer. With Edward Woodward protecting the endangered and down trodden of Manhattan.
While Elementary boasts Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Hackers, Mindhunters) as recovering drug addict and former London Metropolitan Police Consulting Detective, Sherlock Holmes. Transplanted in Manhattan and in the employ of a precinct’s major Crimes Unit, run by Captain Thomas Gregson (Perpetual cop, Aidan Quinn), Detective Marcus Bell ( Newcomer Jon Michael Hill showing lots of potential) and Dr. Joan Watson, Lucy Liu. Holmes’ recovery therapist and shrink .
The stories are well written for the 45 to 48 minute time constraints per episode. The bad guys are almost uniformly bad. With no connections to Doyle’s short stories, novels and novellas. Entwined in plots that often take a hop to left field, but are nicely reeled in before the final minutes. Though what is slowly becoming a hallmark of the series is the rapid and often offbeat repartee between Holmes and Watson when unearthing clues or comparing notes in search of a lead. And occasional quips from Detective Bell are worth their weight in gold.
Taking us further down the line in our search for subtle and not so subtle similarities between two new contenders. Fox’s Almost Human and Intelligence from CBS. Where the former pits rough hewn Karl Urban (Doom, Star Trek, RED, Dredd, Riddick) in L.A.’s the not too distant future. As Detective John Kennex. Sole survivor of an ambush and recipient of a replacement leg. Teamed up with an older, close to obsolete android named Dorian, after his model series, DRN. Cleverly played by Michael Ealy (Fast Forward, The Good Wife). Basically a walking, talking, multilingual Crime Lab.
Aided by a phalanx of rigid, polysyllabic robot uniform cops (Think the faceless robot cops of ‘TXH 1138’ multiplied en masse) who do not possess a good batting average in survival after annoying Kennex with their incessant legalese yammering.
In a series that shows ever evolving technology and its possible implications in countering systems (GPS, Facial Identification, hacking social media) used by police today. Also a decent amount of well executed Special Effects in regards to a crowded city scape, sidewalks and very cool looking drones.
Solid character acting sets the foundation. Buttressed with clever plots, well thought out and executed effects that live up to the future. Where programmable bullets that never miss, organ harvesting, more human looking and feeling Sex Bots and social media murder are the norm. Instead of the exception.
Which brings us to a less than spectacular offering from CBS. Intelligence. Which can trace its lineage back to the 1970s and two pilot made for TV movies, Probe, from NBC, which later evolved into a short lived series, Search. And a pilot movie and series from ABC titled, The Delphi Bureau.
The Delphi Bureau could be considered the first creaky prototype and great grandfather of Intelligence. Where a federal bureaucracy sent an investigator, glenn Garth Gregory, (Laurence Luckinbill) armed with a photographic memory to find and undo fiendish schemes involving surplus weapons systems and or missing government funding.
While NBC had Hugh O’Brien (Wyatt Earp) investigating conspiracies in Probe and Search. With the aid of a computer link in his Mastoid Sinus that fed audio and visual to an underground computer lab led by Burgess Meredith. Backed up by superior writing from Leslie Stephens. And a bevy of lab coated Tech Babes, Angel Tompkins and Jacklyn Smith included. Amongst blinking lights sets that appeared stolen from ABC’s The Time Tunnel. While countless other young viewers have likened CBS’s crown jewel to the NBC series, Chuck.
In Intelligence, we have Josh Holloway (Lost) as former Ranger and Sec Ops soldier, Gabriel Vaughan. Who has a computer imbedded and a link to another isolated lab filled with other computers to aid in his feats of world wide derring-do. Protected by Secret Service Agent, Riley Neal (Meghan Ory). With whom Gabriel has no chemistry. And overseen by Marg Helgenberger (‘Species’, ‘CSI’). Who is so much better than the material and is wasted as Lillian Strand. The organization’s stiletto heeled boss.
The series is not as strage as it sounds. With lots of chemistry between Crane and Abbie Mills. Reinforced by exceptional flash back segues and asides that harken back to Highlander in their use of costumes and settings.While backstopped with impeccable guest stars such as Clancy Brown, who pioneered the ground covered before Crane’s arrival. And John Nobel (Fringe, Superman Unbound). Who comes up with spells and traps in the continuing battles of good versus evil.
Though, I’ve little doubt that Intelligence will get at least another season on Marg Helgenberger‘s name alone.
Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews
Thoughts on 2014 TV season so far? Which show(s) are YOUR favorite?
26 thoughts on “Early 2014 TV Season: The Same Thing… Only Different!”
Nice write up on these shows Jack, I hardly watch any of the shows on the big networks anymore. Most of the shows I watch are on paid networks such as AMC and FX. But Almost Human has grown on me, the first couple of episodes were kind of weak in my opinion but the last few episodes were quite good. Also, I’m sucker for futuristic shows so I’ll keep watching and hope Fox will renew the show for next season.
Thanks for taking the time to peruse and open up the discussion!
As series on FX recede into hiatus or valiantly return. I’ve been bouncing between established and pay TV. Some of the establishment series had huge build up, but only so-so premieres.
‘Almost Human’ had a lot of back story with Kennex, settings and characters to introduce. And they pulled it off fairly well with time to spare. Working on bigger crimes and bad guys once the premiere beach head had been set. Definitely with you on it and ‘Sleepy Hollow’ being renewed!
‘Sherlock’ rocked out loud in its season premiere after its superb Reichenbach cliff hanger. While ‘Person of Interest’ and ‘Elementary’ move forward with more clever dramas and citizens in distress. While ‘Intelligence’ has jumped the shark from its premiere to Gabriel’s CPU being hacked and its specifications being traded in its second episode.
I’ve started watching True Detective, which I think is superb thus far, as well as the returns of Archer, Sherlock, Justified, and Community. I thought the season premiere of Sherlock was a bit uneven but very good.
I’m watched the premiere of ‘True Detective’ on the strength of McConaughey and Harrelson. Reminds me a lot of ‘The Wire’ in its slow, meticulous build up.
I had ‘Sherlock”s cliffhanger of the Reichenbach roof top fall mostly figured out. And fleshing out new characters was done adequately well. I’m liking where this season’s ‘Archer’ is headed. Pleased to see Dewey Crow back and Loretta back on ‘Justified’. Though Dewey should just off his cousin Darryl. And his other cousin, Darryl.
Fantastic article! I feel totally ignorant and uninformed. Other than some mandatory sports which I simply can’t miss, I never watch much television. That’s kind of a shame since there seems to be so much on TV that is high-level entertainment. With all the movies etc. I just can’t commit to many.
The less than robust economy, dwindling value of the dollar and pay TV has caused Hollywood and elsewhere to re-think priorities. Investing in quality or name recognition talent and applying it to “film quality” television. Of which, AMC’s ‘Breaking Bad’, FX’s ‘The Shield’ and ‘Justified’ are prime examples.
The established major are starting to get on board. With NBC’s ‘The Closer/Major Crimes’ sporting best best supporting cast in television. And CBS’ newcomers, ‘Person of Interest’ and ‘Elementary’ reveling in excellent casts and location photography.
The writers for the established, non paying staions need some fresher, more imaginative and energetic blood with ‘Intellegence’. While Fox keeps quietly pulling the plow with their offerings.
I think the reasons you outline here is why I watch more American TV than British TV these days (I’m from the UK).
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
The Brits have been firmly entrenched in the idea that “less is more” when it comes to television entertainment. With superior writing, research, sets and costuming dating back to the 1980s with ‘Danger:UXB’, ‘Brideshead Revisited’, ‘The Sandbaggers’ and ‘Prime Suspect’.
Through ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Foley’s War’.
Being such, only a few acquire continuous longevity. Where American TV establishes a beach head and builds on it season after dwindling number of episodes season. Writers have a lot to do it with. Along with advertising sales and budgets. Though writers for non-pay television need to understand that putting together seven scripts. Having them play out to a so-so audience does make a “Hit series”. Or “season”.
Especially when two decades ago, a “season” was thirteen episodes. And today, it’s seven to eight. If the series doesn’t get pulled for “re-tooling”. To satisfy minority lawyers and increase demographics. Though usually have the exact opposite effect.
Given these parameters, US television does pretty well.
Yeah, the setup is quite different in the UK. They tend to write and film an entire season before airing it, which is probably why they usually have shorter runs than US shows. Don’t HBO do the same thing in America? I guess US TV has a much larger output than the UK, so even there’s a lot of duds that get quickly cancelled, there’s still a load of good stuff that gets through.
Thanks for responding. I wasn’t disparaging UK program and I’m glad you picked up on that. The end results are the same. The methods are just different. And HBO has been leaning towards “writing for an entire season” with their superb series and mini-series, like ‘The Wire’, ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’. And pay TV’s AMC and FX is catching on with their continuity and writing arc for ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Justified’.
The market and audience in the US is larger and more diverse. Which also has had its collection of duds and gems.
I hope you drop by more often to read and opine more often.
Great article, I’m halfway through season 1 of Sleepy Hollow, I heard the finale ends with a bang. My money is on Almost Human too, I love sci-fi and Karl Urban is so good.
Thanks very much.
I caught the season finale of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and those in charge pulled out all the stops. Ending in a way I and countless others didn’t see coming! I enjoy its ‘X-File’ shadowy feel and mood. And its well thought out and executed costume flash backs.
I like it following on ‘Almost Human’. And am really enjoying the focus being more evenly split in later episodes between Kennex and Dorian.
A lot of these American TV series I haven’t seen yet. I did begin watching The Americans series 1 recently but it hasn’t hooked me yet. On the other hand, I was immediately hooked on The Hostages from episode one…will be watching episode two this week.
Of course, I have seen the new Sherlock series and thought it was brilliant. So cleverly scripted alongside its confidently constructed contemporary setting and the performances are superb (significantly, Cumberbatch).
Thanks for the recommendations though Jack. Some good-looking shows for me to keep an eye out for.
I’m so bummed that I missed the first episode of Season 3 last Sunday!! Aaargh, I can’t seem to remember when things are on. I’m sure it was great, I’ve become a huge fan of Benedict because of that show.
I caught ‘Sherlock’ through PBS and its ‘Masterpiece Mysteries’. Mycroft had a lot to do with Sherlock’s year long “disappearance’ and the wrapping up of Moriarity’s criminal empire. The debriefing and strategy discussion between Sherlock and Mycroft while playing a “game” is a HOOT! So, the superior writing’s still in place. Also curious to see what happens with the Holmes/Watson relation and partnership with the addition of Watson’s fiancee.
Note: Check your local prime time shows on IMDb’s home page. It’s a formatted 8p to 10p block to the lower right of the page.
One thing I’ve admired about FX was their desire early on to bet it all on ‘The Shield’. A series that would have had a hard time succeeding in the censor ridden, non paying television realm. Yet, those in charge did. And their bet paid off… BIG!
I’ve had a few gripes with their, ‘The Americans’. Having lived in those areas and around the world depicted in the series. Their idea of what DC, MD and VA looked like back in the 1980s doesn’t ring true. A bit too much poetic licensing, I guess.
While ‘Sherlock’ remains the flag ship and bar setter for what episodic television can be!
I said nah to Intelligence after first couple of episodes. I got Almost Human, don’t need a less funny version 😦
Are you still watching Almost Human Tim? I missed the last few episodes but I REALLY like what I saw so far, I better catch up on that show!
I am still watching it. The chemestry still works and the sci fi aspects are still interesting. However I would say it is lacking an overarcing storyline. Each episode is pretty independent of the last. Am sure they will establish something in the background 😀
With a bit more smarts in the writing, research and concept bullpens, ‘Intelligence’ would excel, where it basically putters along. Gabriel and Neal need some common ground. And Gabriel really needs to be more of a protected Chess Master directing ground assets. Instead of being a vulnerable Rook or a Pawn.
While Ms. Helgenberger, who I think would be an excellent Mrs. Jack Ryan for his later tales. Like a re-booted ‘The Sum of All Fears’, ‘Debt of Honor’ or ‘Executive Orders’. Can perform her Lillian Strand role in her sleep. And it sometimes shows. Not a lot of energy there. More’s the pity.
‘Almost Human’ got a bit of a bad rap months before its premiere. Where lots of people were thinking it was a different take on BBC’s and later, Sy~Fy’s ‘Being Human’. Though it looks like that error has been rectified. Though, I do enjoy the humore in Fox’s ‘Almost Human’.
Glad you enjoy Almost Human as well. Not sure why I didnt take to Intellegence, it just felt done to me. There’s Chuck, jack 2.0 and currently running Almost Human. Maybe it was just bad timing, pilot didnt really hook me either 😦
Still I got plenty shows to watch so am not complaining 😀
The pilot/premiere of ‘Intelligence’ fell short of a sale. Seemed a bit slap dash and rushed once the initial plot line was set. And revealed too many flaws. This from a guy who grew up in the “Golden Age” of writing and1960s television. With ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘Combat!’, ‘Peter Gunn’ and original B&W ‘Outer Limits’. Through the grossly under rated ‘Hill Street Blues’ and ‘The Wire’.
Though it does seem to be flourishing in pay TV and the other series I critiqued in my post.
Yep, Almost Human would be my pick out of these. In fact it’s the only one I watch. It’s not terribly original but I like the banter between the leading characters. It’s fun to watch. So far, so good.
I’m pleasantly surprised with all the love ‘Almost Human’ is receiving.
As television seasons go. Early 2014 isn’t looking that bad. Not great, but certainly not terrible, either. More so in the non paying arena, which I hope doesn’t start becoming a trend.
And it’s kind of cool to see the little guy and young upstart, Fox on the score board with such an entertaining and economical show.
Hey Jack, nice writeup here. I am woefully out of the loop with this year’s batch of new TV. Lately I have been working my way through The Sopranos; after that, I’m not sure. Heard some great things about Hannibal so I might give that a shot. You’ve got me curious about Almost Human though. I wasn’t aware Karl Urban was in that… really enjoy his work.
‘The Sopranos’ is a great series for their vast, varied and surprising supporting cast and guest stars, While NBC has taken the original concept of ;Manhunter’ and has expanded boundaries and added other nemeses. The lead actor playing Lecter is both intriguing and seductive, With his own agenda and is worthy of closer attention. Also kind of cool seeing Lawrence Fishburne tackling Dennis Farina’s original role.
Karl Urban has the damaged, driven detective down pat without breaking a sweat. Well and deftly offset by Michael Ealy’s Dorian.