Pilots, Premieres, and First Looks: “Crossbones” (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS

Who:  “Crossbones,” aired on network TV, specifically on NBC, from May 30 through August 2, 2014.

What: “Crossbones,” a historical adventure drama based on a book called “The Republic of Pirates” by Colin Woodard, wherein Edward Teach, otherwise known as the famous pirate Blackbeard (John Malkovich), has set up a colony and would be utopia far from the crown that seeks to bring him to justice for his former murderous, pirating ways – though the colony is not as far from royal reach as he would like.

When: The series finale aired on NBC on August 2, 2014.  “Crossbones” was canceled after one season.

Where: The action is set in and around what is presumably the Caribbean in the year 1729.

Why: In scouting pilots and catching up on entertainment news, I read about this show quietly being introduced by NBC for their 2014 summer programming as an “event series.”  I was immediately intrigued because a) I love pirates (thanks, Johnny Depp), and b) John Malkovich is an amazing chameleon of an actor who always brings a certain level of gravitas to each role that he plays.  I decided to see if the show lived up to its apparent street cred.  Little did I know that this particular series was an embattled one that took two years to get to air, only to be canceled prior to the end of its run.

How – as in How Was It?

The pilot/premiere/first-time viewing rating scale:

***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING.  HOLY SMOKES!

**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing.  I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.

*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens.  There are things I like, and things I don’t.  We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.

** – I will give it three episodes.  Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together.  No matter how unlikely.

* – Pass on this one, guys.  It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.

Crossbones = **1/2

SYNOPSIS

Edward Teach (Malkovich), known to the world as the infamous pirate Blackbeard, is in hiding, fashioning a utopia after his own idealism on an island far from British rule.  He styles himself the self-proclaimed “commodore” of this society, which is principled largely on free trade and free rule, neither of which was available as a subject of the Crown back in 1729. Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle), a surgeon, appears on the island, appealing to be the resident medic to the ever suspicious Teach; however, it is apparent from very early on that Mr. Lowe has another agenda: the assassination and/or capture of Blackbeard. Lowe, however, finds himself taken in by Teach’s ideals.  Other complications also affect the society, not the least of which is the watchful eye of spies for the Crown and some of its more headstrong residents, including trade merchant Kate Balfour (Claire Foy).

THOUGHTS

Because the total number of episodes for the entire series was nine, I bent my “two to three star” rule and watched the whole series, particularly because even as I wavered about whether or not to continue watching it, something inevitably and always drew me back in to doing so.  In fact, in this viewer’s most succinct review and estimation of this series, Crossbones was a highly uneven show that had much going for it but also suffered from just as much undermining its success.  Still, at the end, there was something oddly hypnotic about it.  I could spend the first half hour of an episode lamenting my decision to watch yet another installment of the already canceled series but then spend the second half hour completely engaged by what I was seeing in the episode itself.

Let’s start with what worked about Crossbones.

First, the production values were pretty remarkable for a television show.  The art direction, particularly the set dressing and properties that made up Teach’s bed chambers, was quite impressive, and there was a fun battle scene between warring many-sailed ships near the end of the series.  The cinematography was also well done, capturing on-location tropical settings in ways that truly engaged and immersed the viewer in this world of pirates and cutthroats.  As a result, this viewer thought that the look of the show, from opening titles to end credits, was beautiful in its own right.

Second, Richard Coyle as Tom Lowe was easily the most likable of any of the performers.  His character was the best developed, but he also brought a charisma to his role that everyone else, even Malkovich, lacked.  Inevitably, it was his mutability as Lowe that kept me watching most, even as the story structure meandered and floundered around him, devolving into nebulous loose ends and unstructured frayed edges.

Third, the concept itself was intriguing, even if the concept was not executed in a fashion that ultimately sustained the series or viewer interest in it (mine and others’ alike).  In other words, the book provided a solid basis by which to tell a story, and this story, of Blackbeard’s later years and his ego mixed with his ideals, provided a great foundation for potential storytelling and performances.  Unfortunately, the screen writers did not translate their source material well, or the editors made a few too many cuts by the time the show aired.

What didn’t work with Crossbones was more than enough to be disappointed by the overall product.  First, there is Malkovich’s underwhelming performance.  While his gruff and stern visage, normally ideal for the offbeat character roles that made him famous, rendered him a good physical candidate for the legendary pirate, his line delivery was frequently monotone if not menacing, and he affected an accent that landed somewhere in the middle of American and English without being either, which ultimately distracted from more than informed the character.  His repartee with Coyle and their scenes together ultimately proved to be the most compelling to watch, but Malkovich’s execution of certain emotions or shades thereof awkwardly straddled a line of too ham-fisted to be subtle and too subtle to be ham-fisted.  He was not as formidable as I would have liked, and his portrayal of the character lacked depth, but for the words of ideals in which he purportedly believed, except when the same rules did not benefit him.

The character of Blackbeard in Crossbones was intelligent and nuanced, but whether directed to do so or whether the actor made the choice, Malkovich failed to render Blackbeard to be anything equal to his legend – he was neither hero, nor antihero, nor true villain.  This Blackbeard was ego above all else, which informed his relationships with everyone and everything, but also served to distance and disconnect the character, at least from the viewer, bereft of the imposition and imprint with which such a character might otherwise leave the viewer.  I wanted to like him.  Or, I wanted to hate him.  Most of the time, I felt indifferent to him – which this viewer does not believe was intended – and this pervasive indifference, even apathy, toward the main character rendered the series quite boring at times and for lengthy periods.

What’s more, the writers in general were no help, and this viewer cannot ascertain whether the failings of the writing were due to shoddy adaptation work or an overall flaw of the original source material.  The dialogue was intelligent and contemplative – particularly between the two leading men, and the combination of Malkovich and Coyle chewing the scenery was fun more often than not – but the story structure fell apart quickly.  First, there was some question as to what story the show was actually trying to tell: was it an intimate portrayal of a misunderstood brigand? A study in governance neither democracy nor monarchy? The pitfalls of becoming embroiled and involved with a man too smart for his own peers but not smart enough to live life in a meaningful way? Also, there were distracting sidebars that were far less interesting than any story centered on Edward Teach, which frequently left this viewer marveling after bloated, weighty episodes.

The love triangle, for example, between Lowe, Kate (Foy), and James (Peter Stebbings) was lackluster and formulaic at best.  What’s more, it added literally nothing to the story. There was no true resolution for these characters and no reason for the love triangle itself, other than to, perhaps, expand episodes beyond Blackbeard’s ramblings and machinations. This plot thread, in the end, felt shoehorned into the overall narrative and frequently induced involuntary groans from this viewer, particularly in the final act when Kate seeks to abort a child she may have produced during her affair with Lowe by taking poison. Lowe cures her with a rudimentary blood transfusion, and that’s all there is to it.  Cut to war, Blackbeard’s final exodus, and no further explanation as to how the relationship between these three characters developed into the future, particularly since it seems as if Lowe is sticking around in the colony in the end, despite the awkward “I slept with your wife, but we’re all still friends” motif.

The focus on Teach’s former wife, held in captivity by his rival William Jagger (Julian Sands), was confusing at best and offered the viewer nothing other than perplexing back story that, apparently, gave Blackbeard headaches and Lowe reason enough to fashion a rudimentary drill with which to reach into the pirate’s skull.  I suppose this story line was meant to depict Teach’s guilt or regret; ultimately, it served no purpose, other than to be duly gruesome when Lowe was cranking the drill.

The best through-line in plot found Lowe questioning Teach’s aims in the final episode in a way that ultimately reached the pirate and his warring ego and superego.  The problem is that this story, if the main plot thread to start, could have been told in five episodes or less, perhaps as a more refined multi-part miniseries than as a fully ordered event series. Again, the two men’s informal tete-a-tetes lent some interest to the proceedings, but other threads were often left dangling or flailing about in the breeze, left to further fray for several episodes if not for forever, lost to the ethos of inattention to continuity and/or story flow.

Speaking of Julian Sands, his Jagger proved to be markedly over the top, which might have been enjoyable had it been at an equal level to whatever Malkovich was going for in the end.  This viewer is, then, left wondering what the episode director(s) were thinking.  I wonder how many times scripts were reworked or tweaked before they were finally produced because I suspect that reworking and tweaking were significant elements of pre-production.

Ultimately, in the end, where Crossbones was concerned, I was drawn in by the romanticism behind the lead character, the setting, the art direction, and other production values as well as by Coyle’s engaging portrayal of Lowe.  There were moments that could be categorized as exciting, but they were rare and infrequent. Perhaps, I should have cut my losses and stopped watching earlier, but something in this show worked – after all, NBC green-lit its airing.  Unfortunately, the series and its elements did not have the chops to warrant renewal.  Fortunately, the ending is tidy, if improbable, though kudos to all for a successful misdirection, as the legend lives on.

RECOMMENDATION

Crossbones is recommended to anyone who loves a good tale about pirates. This may not be the best tale about pirates, but it scratches the itch in a pinch if pirates be what the viewer craves.  I would hesitate to recommend this to John Malkovich fans, for the simple fact that this viewer does not believe that this performance is among his best work.  He has made many wonderful, quirky films, including a couple with the Coen brothers, and Being John Malkovich, in which he played himself or a version of it, courtesy of Charlie Kaufman.  Those are better vehicles to experience this man’s level of transcendent method character acting. No – really, this show is all about the pirates, for better or for worse.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  Crossbones did not survive its first season on network TV but is available for purchase or rental to stream on Amazon Prime.  Ahoy, ye land lubbers.  Avast!

Advertisements

Around the Water Cooler & Looking Back: Digesting “24: Live Another Day” and the Rumors of a New Season (Without Jack Bauer; MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “24: Live Another Day” aired on network TV, specifically on Fox, during spring/summer 2014.

What: “24: Live Another Day,”a limited run event series exploring what has happened to Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), and to some extent Chloe Sullivan (Mary Lynn Rajskub), following the finale of parent series 24.  As Jack’s voice-over introduction to start each hour indicates, events in each episode occur in real time.  Thus, each one-hour episode is one hour’s worth of events in the story, except the season finale to this program, which covered about twelve hours, since this event reboot was not afforded a full 24 episode order.

When: The series/ninth season premiere aired on Monday, May 5, 2014, at 9:00 PM (I am behind).  The finale of this limited run aired on July 14, 2014.

Where: The event series was set in London, England, United Kingdom.

Why: Why?!  Because as I stated here, I watched 24 and really enjoyed it and because I want to know what happened to Jack!  I love Kiefer Sutherland, particularly in this role, and I think this could be a novel approach to revisiting popular series in the future, without demeaning or cheapening the ends of worthy series.  Jack is back!  Will he ever get a happy ending?  Or, at least, a less than tragic one?  More to the point, should it be considered a happy ending if he merely doesn’t get himself killed? Discuss.

How – as in How Was It? – THOUGHTS

I reviewed the premiere of this series.  If you would like to read that, click here.

Jack, Jack, he’s our man! If he can’t do it…fuck ’em. That’s my cheer for Jack Bauer, always played in a riveting and powerful tour de force performance by Kiefer Sutherland, in what would definitely be a career highlight role for him.

24:LAD gave us a thirteen-hour, high octane thrill ride of the show we’ve missed being on our televisions for four years, with each tick of that clock.  Don’t get me wrong, when 24 ended its long run in 2010, it was the right time to go.  After all, how many terrible crises can one man and/or one agency endure?  Are threats to national security of the type depicted on that program really so common?  It makes one shudder to think of it.  Fortunately or unfortunately, then, the show answered that question by taking the crisis to London and threatening the fictional lives of British citizens.  Problem solved?

Seriously, though, Jack Bauer had a good run the first time through, but then, the writers/producers decided to leave the series somewhat open ended.  Jack, exiled for actions that he took to ultimately save America but which were not exactly on the up and up, escaped into the world unknown, hiding away from authorities. He became an outlaw, and loyal friend, and former fellow CTU agent, Chloe Sullivan (Mary Lynn Rajskub) followed suit, vilified for their roles in these events (I’m trying to be deliberately vague here, in case readers have not seen 24 the first time out). Live Another Day picks up the story four years later, present day and in London. Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) is running an international satellite office of the CIA there. Kate Morgan, a field agent, is resigning and heading back to the United States.  It seems her husband, possibly another agent, was a mole, and she never saw it coming. He’s gone now, and her abilities and competence have now been called into question. She is leaving, judged as she is by her boss and her peers, who covet her position. Yet, while finishing up her work and tracking the patterns of some possible terrorist suspects, video surveillance footage is discovered that contains a recognizable face – wanted fugitive Jack Bauer has emerged from hiding. What’s more, after an exciting standoff between him and a dispatched team, he lets himself be caught.

Kate, her instincts firing on all cylinders, realizes this before her co-workers and patronizing boss do.  After all – Jack has been out of reach for four years.  Why would he let himself be caught so easily? Even though Jack is interrogated by Steve, he doesn’t break and maintains an impressive silence.  Why would he talk?  He’s interrogated and tortured countless suspects – he knows all of the procedures and protocols and knows how to beat the system.  In fact, he practically created the system himself.  What the viewer learns, however, is that Chloe is being held in a top secret wing of this agency that utilizes torture as part of its interrogation arsenal, and Jack is on a mission to rescue her.  It seems Chloe became involved in a militant, cyber-terrorist organization looking to undermine foreign intelligence, particularly of the USA. Chloe joined, both as a fugitive, and because she was promised by the guy who recruited her that her husband and child might still be alive.  As it turns out <spoiler>, they are not.

In the meantime, President Heller (William Devane), now a second term president, is in London to meet with officials and to give a speech. It seems that the president is struggling with his memory, and when his Chief of Staff, Mark Boudreau, played by Tate Donovan, asks him about an easy mistake he made in a briefing, confusing the Presidents Roosevelt, Heller admits to Mark’s wife, his daughter Audrey (Kim Raver), that “it’s getting worse.”  By “it,” he means Alzheimer’s, and the condition deteriorates rapidly during these thirteen stressful hours.

By the end of this set of all new 24 episodes, the following too-crazy-to-be-believed events have occurred:

1. Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) is found to be alive and well outside of Westeros, and not in the form of some zombie or diet White Walker, or wight, and is determined to martyr the American President for crimes against her husband, the leader of some Middle Eastern terrorist organization.  She, as in Margot Al-Harazi, bases her convictions on the fact that a US bombing, on Heller’s order, of an installation holding thought to have held her husband led to the death of children, and so she schemes to assassinate the American President.  She is willing to sacrifice her own children to this cause, including her daughter, who is quite possibly brainwashed by her mother and now deceased stepfather and who acts as a Sydney Bristow like double agent to implement Margot’s nefarious plans “on the ground.”  One such plan centers on commandeering military drones and bombing several London targets, unless President Heller agrees to surrender himself.

2. Though Jack and Chloe are only peripherally involved at first, their involvement deepens when Jack learns of this woman’s plans to bomb London.  It becomes Jack’s mission to risk his own capture in the name of saving lives of British citizens and the President alike.  Of course, this means that Jack must inevitably entangle with Audrey, quite possibly the love of his life (at least after Teri), from whom he departed by the end of the original series.

3. Margot plays terrible life-or-death games with her children, neither of whom are totally as committed as she to their deadly mission.  They hijack the special attack drones and aim them for London, which sends the Prime Minister, played by Stephen Fry, into a stressful snit. The thirteen hours follow Kate as she first apprehends Jack and then helps him to navigate the underground London crime syndicates and other various contacts, with Chloe’s reluctant but unerringly loyal help, in an attempt to suss out Margot’s whereabouts and to re-appropriate control of the drones.

4. In crazy 24 like fashion, President Heller asks Jack to help him meet Margot’s demands that he exchange his life for a cease and desist of the drone attacks by apparently standing in the open field at Wembley Stadium.  Fortunately, Jack engineers a switcheroo that temporarily befuddles Margot and son.  Though President Heller survives what looks to be a drone bombing straight to the heart of London’s most famous athletic landmark, Margot is able to re-engineer plans to get hold of the drones. Yet, Jack, with Kate’s help, is finally able to locate Margot, and Catelyn Stark plummets at the hands of a vengeful Jack before she can be brought to justice, in one of those moments that gives you pause about Jack while quietly encouraging you to cheer for his pluck.  At least, it was no repeat of the Red Wedding.

5. Meanwhile, Chloe is captured by agents of Cheng Zhi, the Chinese terrorist who kidnapped Jack and Audrey during the parent run of 24. Apparently, Cheng survived American attempts to take him out and is now seeking vengeance.  Through a well orchestrated plan that also involves Chloe’s cyber-terrorist boss, Cheng schemes to extort Jack’s cooperation while orchestrating war between the US and China.  The ensuing melee becomes a tete a tete between the former rivals.  Cheng does not survive his subsequent run-in with Jack, but neither does Audrey.  When she attempts to meet a contact who might be able to help her bargain with Chinese officials, after a Chinese submarine was targeted by Cheng’s men in an attempt to start the previously mentioned war, a hit man poised to strike succeeds in shooting her.  Audrey loses the battle for her life.

6. Jack saves the day, but while running around after all the threats to peace and the President’s safety, Audrey’s husband Mark secretly outs Jack to the Russians, who want Jack to face his crimes, which included aggressive acts against Russian nationals at the end of the parent series.  Though Mark is ultimately helpful to Jack in the end, the Russians, who were also in league with Cheng, succeed in capturing Chloe.  At the end of yet another very long day, Jack gives himself up to the Russians in exchange for Chloe’s safety, while President Heller presides over the state burial of Audrey, lamenting that he won’t be able to remember the funeral or her as his condition worsens.

7. Also, it seems that Steve Navarro was the actual mole and framed Kate’s husband, as he provided key information to the Russians and agents of Cheng via Chloe’s shady cyber cell leader.  Kate was able to exact some painful but non-lethal revenge when his identity was sussed out, even as she resigned her commission, satisfied with the closure, however empty, that this revelation brought her.

Just like at the end of 24 proper, Jack’s fate hangs in the balance.  Though Live Another Day was a full eleven hours shorter than a usual season of 24, it was no less devoid of intensity and crazy, barely to be believed twists.  Also, while the series may have started off slow, as hoped for, the pace steadily quickened to heart-pumping levels without losing the ingredients that made 24 so successful: the real time conceit, the side-by-side in-time action panels showing different points of view of any conflict, that confounding ticking clock.  Most of all, the success of this series revival rests squarely on the shoulders of Kiefer Sutherland and his passionate, earnest portrayal of a character the viewing audience cannot help but root for in the end, no matter how compromising and/or morally ambiguous the choices and situations in which he finds himself.

Earlier this year (2015), reports surfaced that the Fox network is contemplating renewing 24 for yet another season but without Jack Bauer as the central character. This viewer posits, without doubt or recrimination, that to do so would be a colossal mistake.  While being legitimately unable to imagine a 24 without any appearance of Jack or Kiefer for any extended period, the truth is, we had a bit of a test run in the first two episodes of Live Another Day.  Jack did not appear outright until the second episode, and without the connection to his character, this viewer struggled to become engaged with an entirely new set of characters, particularly since they lacked the charisma and panache that Kiefer Sutherland brings to his role.  I did not care about Kate Morgan or Steve Navarro or the London operations of the CIA until they started chasing the specter of Jack Bauer, alive and well on hidden security news feeds.  Then, the heart of 24 began beating a bit faster, because any 24 true fan, like myself, was waiting for his/her hero, the inimitable Jack, to save the day.

I mean, 24 without Jack’s characteristic “Dammit!” just does not seem like an enticing prospect.  Plus, the character of Jack is so flushed out and, well, good; he is both complex and simple, straddling a line between heroic and morally corrupt as he drives forward under the philosophy of ends justifying means.  He may not always make the best choices, but he always has the best intentions or, at least, some well meaning aim behind intentions that may not be the best.  He is a conflicted soul, embattled by the trauma and sacrifice of serving his country.  There is so much he could be angry and bitter about; instead, he channels this aggression into keeping his country safe.  He is a hero, even though the act of torturing others may come a little to easily to him, desensitized as he is by all the violence he has observed or to which he has been a party.

How could 24 possibly live on without Jack?  Because, as tension-ratcheting as the ticking clock and real time conceit are, the success of the parent series would not have been achieved without Kiefer Sutherland’s able portrayal of Jack; Jack became the fulcrum of stability and sanity with each new passing insane terrorist plot he encountered.  Even when he was doing arguably wrong, he always knew it, and while other characters became fully corrupted, the character of Jack Bauer never actually crossed that line.

This viewer cannot even fathom watching a 24 without Kiefer Sutherland – because the ticking clock alone would not sustain the series.  This is not a Heroes, which suffered from a bloated arsenal of characters and bad writing and which can afford an entirely complete reboot with all new characters (as long as there is a new writing team in place to correct the prior ills). 24 is Kiefer, and to a lesser extent, Mary Lynn Rajskub, who portrays irascible Chloe Sullivan.  24 and this event series told these characters’ stories first, followed by the overarching story of the plot against London and President Heller. Losing the primary characters would undermine, I believe, the existing fan base and any existing story foundation.  I also do no think it likely that the show would garner new viewers, if these viewers did not find 24 during its first run, unless the entire structure of the show changed.  I think any new series without Jack and Chloe would feel like a cheap imitation, with viewing audiences familiar with the franchise yearning to see their established heroes, rather than willing to be introduced to new ones.  Perhaps, I am wrong to speak on behalf of so many others, but I would be hard pressed to find many brand new devotees who watched this event series cold, without watching at least some of the original 24..

The original series ran for eight years and also covered all kinds of horrific territory, with bigger and badder threats to American soil challenging CTU and Jack Bauer and about which this viewer mused in the review of the Live Another Day pilot.  What new stories could possibly be told?  How could the writers possibly top what has already been done?  The only 24 story truly worth telling is what becomes of Jack Bauer.  If Fox orders a new season of 24 without the cooperation of Sutherland, this viewer predicts that lack of interest will result in an expensive mistake – and probably quick cancellation. Feel free to comment if you disagree, but if there is a heart to 24 and its intense, real-time plot device, it would be the character of Jack Bauer, without question.  The series – and Fox – cannot afford to lose him or to lose Kiefer Sutherland in any feeble attempt to continue this series into the future.

Lingering Questions

1) Why is Chloe goth?  What has she got herself into?

Answer: Chloe joined a cyber terrorism organization after being led to believe that her husband and child were being held captive by a government out to get her for her aid in abetting Jack Bauer.  Apparently, this new foray into crime, and the need to keep herself hidden, led to a dramatic wardrobe change for Chloe.

2) What’s wrong with President Heller?

Answer: He has Alzheimer’s Disease, sensitively portrayed by William Devane.

3) Will Audrey and Jack meet again?

Answer: They met, and it was sad and tragic, as they both clearly still loved each other.  Audrey wanted to do everything she could to help Jack, despite the fact that she was married to Mark.  Jack, per usual, didn’t want her to risk her neck. She was momentarily upset with him when she thought Jack and Mark led her father to his death in Wembley Stadium, but her anger lingered only at Mark when Jack informed her that her father was alive.

4) Why do we care about Kate Morgan?  She seems to be an integral piece to this puzzle.

Answer: She was instrumental in helping to foil the plot against President Heller and was also collateral damage, due to Steve Navarro’s sellout, at least initially.

5) Has Jack been keeping tabs on Kim?  Steve tells him that Kim had another baby. Grandpa Jack hasn’t been around much.

Answer: Kim is barely discussed, except as a possible carrot to entice Jack to comply with various threats of extradition and torture.  It’s unclear whether Jack has maintained much observation of his daughter and apparent grandchildren.

6) Can Jack save the day and clear his name?  My bet’s on yes…let’s find out!

Answer: He definitely saved the day…and cleared his name with those that know him best.  Unfortunately, the Russians don’t find his name very clear right now.

PARTING SHOTS:

Watching 24: Live Another Day was definitely like reuniting with an old friend, somewhat longer in the tooth in the new incarnation, but never without the intensity that became the parent series’ hallmark. Jack Bauer remains a great character, and any attempt to continue the series without him (or Chloe) would be foolhardy at best.  Live Another Day, in the end, was a fun trip back into the heart-pounding, zany, violent world of 24. I really enjoyed watching it.

LOOKING AHEAD:

24: Live Another Day was ordered for a limited run series of thirteen episodes, the finale of which aired on July 14, 2014.  There is no word yet on whether or not Fox plans to order additional seasons beyond rumor and speculation; if it happens, this blog will report as needed.  In the meantime, as noted above, Live Another Day is available to stream on Amazon Prime (and is up for rental or purchase on Amazon) and is definitely worth the watch, though it is strongly recommended that this event series be watched only after viewing the original 24, for the event series augments the original but cannot stand apart from it.  Both are recommended viewing by this writer, as the writing and performances were and continued to be strong, particularly the performance by Kiefer Sutherland of Jack Bauer.

Progress Report: Fall TV Preview and Selection and Final Update Regarding Spring/Summer Shows

At this point, the primary TV viewing season is over, the summer viewing season in all its limited glory is in full swing, and the calendar has struck the month of August…which means less than a month until the fall TV season begins again!  Thus, it’s time to shop for new pilots (even if I’m still catching up on all the shows)! Since up-fronts were held in May, new TV offerings by networks and some cable outlets have been announced. It’s time to examine them closely and choose which will be added to the extremely extended lineup covered by this blog!

A TV Schedule/Grid with Premiere Dates will be created in another entry.

Thanks to TVLine for helping a girl out.

American Horror Story: Hotel

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL, FX

PREMIERE DATE | TBA

WHEN | TBA

WHO | Lady Gaga, Matt Bomer, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Angela Bassett, Chloe Sevigny, Wes Bentley, Finn Wittrock, Max Greenfield, Denis O’Hare, Cheyenne Jackson

WHAT | The latest edition of the horror anthology series goes inside a hotel and features a love triangle between Bomer, Gaga and Wittrock’s characters.

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pick-Up.  I haven’t watched Freak Show yet, and I’m more than chagrined that we are down a Jessica Lange and up a Lady Gaga (who frakking gets top billing no less).  Also, Ryan Murphy’s shows suffer late life.  I loved Horror House and Coven and enjoyed Asylum, albeit less than the other seasons.  Of course, it’s still on my watch list. Even if I might regret it like a “Bad Romance.”

Angel From Hell

ANGEL FROM HELL, CBS

PREMIERE DATE | Nov. 5

WHEN | Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c

WHO | Jane Lynch (Glee), Maggie Lawson (Psych), Kyle Bornheimer (Family Tools), Kevin Pollak (Mom)

WHAT | When Amy enters Allison’s life and claims to be her guardian angel, they form an unlikely friendship and Allison can’t be sure if Amy is an angel or just nuts.

Trailer Available at CBS’ YouTube Channel and TVLine.com

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Hesitantly Pick-Up.  Honestly, the plot/comedic situation seems pretty thin, and the main character is not as likable as some, but more Jane Lynch on my small screen with less spastic singing tweens and teens around her could be a very good thing.  She’s funny, but is she enough to carry this show?  It might be worth it to check it out, since the idea of Jane Lynch as anyone’s guardian angel is almost too delicious to pass up.

Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris

BEST TIME EVER WITH NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, NBC

PREMIERE DATE | Sept. 15

WHEN | Tuesdays at 10/9c

WHO | Neil Patrick Harris

WHAT | A live one-hour show, complete with stunts, skits, pranks, audience interaction, musical numbers, giveaways and unlimited surprises.

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pass.  As much as I love NPH, a variety show?  With Neil Patrick Harris, but a variety show?  I might tune in if I have the time and inclination, but a) the blog does not cover “reality” shows, game shows, or sketch shows (except the retro view of Saturday Night Live), and b) I don’t love this type of TV.  I suppose if I was going to watch a variety show, NPH is as good a host as any, but…I’m not going to watch a variety show.  It’s an interesting grab at retro nostalgia, though, and good for NBC for trying to experiment.  I wish it success, even if I won’t be watching.

Blindspot

BLINDSPOT, NBC

PREMIERE DATE | Sept. 21

WHEN | Mondays at 10/9c

WHO | Jaimie Alexander (Thor), Sullivan Stapleton (Strike Back), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Broadchurch), Ashley Johnson (The Killing)

WHAT | A beautiful woman, with no memories of her past, is found naked in Times Square with her body fully covered in intricate tattoos. Her discovery sets off a vast and complex mystery that immediately ignites the attention of the FBI who begin to follow the road map on her body to reveal a larger conspiracy of crime while bringing her closer to discovering the truth about her identity.

Trailer Available at NBC.com or TVLine.com

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pass.  I may change my mind if the show gains momentum, but here are my thoughts. While the premise is certainly intriguing, insofar as a random woman in Times Square with tattoos is somewhat interesting, the way the trailer teased the story reminded me of Memento meets The Terminator.  This mystery could be jaw-dropping, or it could fall flat, depending upon what the mystery is.  Yet, neither of the lead actors were likable enough in the trailer to draw me in, and unless this mystery carries with it a DaVinci Code proportioned revelation, I would find myself growing weary of it pretty quickly. Plus, I have so much TV to watch.  Again, if the show gets buzz, critical accolades, or otherwise gains steam, I might change my mind.  I can do that.

Blood & Oil

BLOOD & OIL, ABC

PREMIERE DATE | Sept. 27

WHEN | Sundays at 9/8c

WHO | Don Johnson (Nash Bridges, Miami Vice), Scott Michael Foster (Chasing Life), Chace Crawford (Gossip Girl), Rebecca Rittenhouse (Red Band Society), India de Beaufort (Jane By Design), Delroy Lindo (Believe), Caitlin Carver (The Fosters), Yani Gellman (Pretty Little Liars), Amber Valletta (Revenge)

WHAT | Billy and Cody Lefever dream of a new life beyond their working class roots and move to “The Bakken” in North Dakota, booming after the biggest oil discovery in American history. They’re soon pitted against a ruthless tycoon who forces them to bet big and put everything on the line, including their marriage.

Trailer Available at ABC’s YouTube channel or TVLine.com

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pass.  You know who I think will like this show?  Texans.  Republicans. Fans of Don Johnson.  Most of those cross-sections overlap, so any combination thereof.  I’m one of those bleeding heart liberals from Michigan, and Don doesn’t do it for me.  It’s very much a new Dallas for the 2010s, with more sex and balls-to-the-wall capitalism.  It might be very successful, but I already know it’s not my cup of tea.

Bordertown

Bordertown, Fox

PREMIERE DATE | Midseason

WHO | Nicholas Gonzalez, Alex Borstein, Missi Pyle, Judah Friedlander, Efren Ramirez

WHAT | A satirical look at the cultural shifts taking place in America. Exploring family, politics and everything in between with a cross-cultural wink, the series centers on two very different families living in a fictional Southwest desert town on the U.S. – Mexico border.

Trailer Available at Fox’s YouTube channel or TVLine.com

PICKUP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pass.  As a holdover pilot from last season, my opinion remains the same. A culturally relevant, now animated sitcom will be introduced by Fox.  I don’t really gravitate toward adult cartoons beyond the mainstays like The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy, and the constant delays don’t leave me with votes of confidence for this one.  I may be surprised.

The Catch

THE CATCH, ABC

PREMIERE DATE | TBA

WHEN | Midseason

WHO | Mireille Enos (The Killing),Damon Dayoub (NCIS), Bethany Joy Lenz (One Tree Hill), Rose Rollins (The L Word), Alimi Ballard, Jacky Ido, Jay Hayden, Elvy Yost

WHAT | A thriller centered on the strong, successful Alice Martin. She’s a fraud investigator who’s about to be the victim of fraud by her fiancé. Between her cases, she is determined to find him before it ruins her career.

Trailer Available at ABC’s YouTube channel or TVLine.com

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pass.  This looks like another Shonda Rimes entry, pitting a con artist against a fraud investigator.  Which is to say, I think the show was created by someone else but is being produced by Shondaland.  I am currently Shonda-free, having jumped the shark on Grey’s Anatomy, and I have not become involved with Scandal or How to Get Away with Murder. I am just starting to feel that there is a definite formula to shows produced by Shondaland, most of which have a steamy, soap opera vibe.  I have occasionally chosen to check out shows of that type, but my interest in this show was not piqued by the trailer, so I pass.

Chicago Med

CHICAGO MED, NBC

PREMIERE DATE | Nov. 10

WHEN | Tuesdays at 9/8

WHO | S. Epatha Merkerson (Law & Order), Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead), Yaya DaCosta (Ugly Betty), Nick Gehlfuss (Shameless), Oliver Platt (Fargo)

WHAT | The Chicago Fire spinoff follows the day-to-day chaos of the city’s most bustling hospital and the courageous team of doctors who hold it together. They will tackle unique new cases inspired by topical events, forging fiery relationships in the pulse-pounding pandemonium of the emergency room, and through it all, familiar faces from the ChicagoP.D. and Fire departments will intertwine as this third team of Windy City heroes hits the ground running.

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pass.  Another medical drama?  Another Chicago Fire spin off?  While there is no trailer, I’m getting definite E.R. and Chicago Hope deja vu.  Maybe it will work for some, but it’s not original enough to entice me.  I had to be talked into watching Grey’s Anatomy.  Maybe someone will talk me into watching this.  Or not.

Coach

COACH, NBC

PREMIERE DATE | TBA

WHEN | Midseason

WHO | Craig. T Nelson

WHAT | This follow-up to the ’90s sitcom picks up 18 years later and find Nelson’s Hayden Fox interrupting his retirement to become assistant coach to his own grown son, who is the new head coach at an Ivy League school in Pennsylvania that is just starting up a new team.

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pass.  What the what?!  Seriously?!!  I think this resurrection smacks of a lack of originality in Hollywood – I blame Fox, with their 24 and X-Files reboots (even though I watched/will watch both of those).  I didn’t really watch the original Coach.  I will not watch the new one until I watch the old one, but let me know how it is.  I have morbid curiosity.

Code Black

CODE BLACK, CBS

PREMIERE DATE | Sept. 30

WHEN | Wednesdays at 10/9c

WHO | Marcia Gay Harden (Trophy Wife), Bonnie Somerville (Cashmere Mafia), Raza Jaffrey (Smash), Luis Guzman (How to Make It in America), Melanie Kannokada, Harry M. Ford, Ben Hollingsworth (Cult, The Tomorrow People), William Allen Young

WHAT | Inspired by the festival award-winning documentary of the same name, this medical drama is set in the busiest and most notorious ER in the nation – L.A. County Hospital – where the extraordinary staff struggle in the face of a broken system to protect their ideals and the patients who need them the most.

Trailer Available at TVLine.com

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pass.  Yet another medical drama, CBS-style.  I didn’t watch this trailer…because medical drama.  Talk me into it.

Containment

CONTAINMENT, The CW

PREMIERE DATE | TBA

WHEN | Midseason

WHO | Chris Wood (The Vampire Diaries), Claudia Black (The Originals, Farscape), David Gyasi (Interstellar), Christina Moses (Starship: Apocalypse), Kristen Gutoskie (Beaver Falls), George Young (Casualty), Hanna Mangan Lawrence (Spartacus: War of the Damned) and Trevor St. John (One Life to Live)

WHAT | When a mysterious and deadly epidemic breaks out in Atlanta, a vast urban quarantine is quickly enforced, forcing those stuck on the inside to fight for their lives while local and federal officials desperately search for a cure.

Trailer Available at The CW’s YouTube channel or TVLine.com

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Hesitantly Pick Up.  While this new show looks like a TV version of Outbreak for the 2010s, it is created and produced by Julie Plec, the CW’s darling who created The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and The Tomorrow People.  There were also some fairly compelling performances in the short teaser that made me think this program would be an intense thrill ride. Because I trust the producer, I will check it out.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND, The CW

PREMIERE DATE | Oct. 19

WHEN | Mondays at 8/7

WHO | Rachel Bloom (Robot Chicken)

WHAT | Bloom stars as Rebecca, a successful, driven and possibly crazy young woman who impulsively gives up everything — her partnership at a prestigious law firm and her upscale apartment in Manhattan, included — in a desperate attempt to find love and happiness in that exotic hotbed of romance and adventure: West Covina, Calif.

Trailer Available at The CW’s YouTube channel or TVLine.com

PICK UP OR PASS?

VERDICT: Pick Up.  On the strength of the trailer alone, I choose to pick up this show. The premise sounds very close to other rom-com fair, such as Sleepless in Seattle, or even Felicity with an extremely charismatic lead actress and comedic vs. dramatic pastiche – though, in this situation, it would be like what would happen if Felicity dated Ben in high school first, broke up with him, and then followed him to New York.  Except that this woman is following her ex-beau to California.

Look – if there are musical numbers like there are in the trailer, I will love this to the ends of time. In fact, that better be a thing.  There are not enough musical romantic comedies about crazy lovesick women on TV.  Plus, Rachel Bloom proved herself to be infinitely watchable in this five minute teaser.  And I really liked her outfits.  Excellent trailing, CW.

Seriously, I really hope the musical numbers are included.

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders