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Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

On Tuesday, WGN America announced that sophomore show, Underground, would not return for a third season. Already the cast and creative team are trying to get the show on another network (or streaming service), but generally fans are sad and frustrated that the show was cancelled.

However, the show is not the only WGN America show to be cancelled this week – Outsiders was also cancelled by the new CEO in an effort to rebrand the station. Just a few years ago, the idea of original programs (Salem, Manhattan, Underground and Outsiders) was seen as a way to branch the network away from its roots as a local Tribune station.

Winds change – as does management – but the end of all of these show (but Underground most of all) changes what types of shows are available on TV. What stood out for all of these WGN America shows was a strong sense of different narratives – all of the shows were ground in some real history but took different spins and turns on the same facts that most people know.

Underground was difficult to watch – rightly so – but it raised awareness of issues of race and class that are still relevant to all of us today. The show’s themes hit the right moment in the zeitgeist but each of the shows that are no longer on the air were important to thinking about larger issues.

Regardless of why Underground has left the air (for now), the show made many fans realize more of the cruelties of slavery while also celebrating triumphs in difficult times.

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Just last week FOX announced that it had cancelled the new drama Pitch after just one season. As the start of the baseball season is heating up, it feels wrong – on a personal level – to cancel the drama that made a professional baseball team into a real group of people seems ill-timed.

Actually, the whole way in which Pitch was marketed didn’t do the show justice. Of course, FOX was able to put the show on right as Major League Baseball’s Post-Season occurred, but in having the show on while there was plenty of compelling baseball on in real life made it awkward.

As a fan, would I want to watch fictional baseball with a female in the game or would I want to watch the games that count and matter for ten teams down to two teams?

For me, as a female fan, I wanted to root for Ginny and watch her team do well, and even though I did, there were parts of her narrative that probably did it few favors.

Setting Ginny’s rise to the Majors with a team that has only been in two World Series (and who have never won) along with the team being a smaller market make it hard for general baseball fans to want to root for The Padres. Amongst fans in southern California, the Padres aren’t even the popular team (except around San Diego), whereas a team like The Cubs, The Yankees or even The Braves could have drawn more fans.

Regardless of the fanbase of the team depicted in the show, the show had a difficult job of trying to tread the line between being too much about baseball and too much about Ginny’s personal life and the difficulties of being a woman in baseball.

For all the aspects of the show that didn’t succeed this year, there are still plenty of fans of the show around. As another friend (or was it a friend of a friend), I’d love to see more Pitch – especially on MLB Network.

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Left to Right: Matt Lanter, Abigail Spencer, Malcolm Barrett, Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan

This last week, in conjunction with the well-known entertainment news site Deadline and their Awardsline screening series, NBC’s freshman drama Timeless was presented to members of various Guilds and fans.

The room was treated to a first (or second) viewing of the show’s fourth episode entitled “Party at Castle Varlar,” that featured Nazis and Ian Fleming (as played by Once Upon a Time alum Sean Maguire). It was also one of the first episodes to dig deeply into Flynn Garcia’s (series regular Goran Visnijc) motives. After the episode, Dominic Patten from Deadline led a short question and answer session with Executive Producers Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan as well as stars Matt Lanter (Wyatt Logan), Abigail Spencer (Lucy Preston) and Malcolm Barrett (Rufus Carlin).

While nothing about the show’s future was discussed, much was asked about how some stories were broken (usually the room focuses on a style of episode – Western, Mystery, etc. – and then finds a historical time to match) while also allowing the cast to share their favorite episodes and costumes.

Left to Right: Matt Lanter, Abigail Spencer, Malcolm Barrett, Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan

Overall, for a show that generated some buzz during the year, but could always use more if there’s another season, this event allowed existing fans a shot at seeing the cast up close while also teasing some of the behind the scenes stories that made the show fun and captivating each week.

NBC will announce their 2017-2018 TV schedule at the network’s annual upfront presentation in New York City on Monday, May 15. It is possible that the fate of Timeless could be revealed shortly before the official announcement is made.

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Gifted Program

The Black List, a collection of Hollywood’s best screenplays that have yet to be produced or picked up by a production company or studio [not to be confused with the NBC TV series of the same name], conducts at least a few staged readings a year. The goal of those readings is to get the screenplays (aka scripts) made into features (aka box office films).

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a staged table reading of Gifted with Armie Hammer (from the box office movies The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Social Network) and Gina Rodriguez (from Jane the Virgin) as the leads. Just this year, that screenplay was finally released in the theatres, starring Chris Evans (Captain America himself) and Saturday Night Live alum Jenny Slate.

Left to Right: Cooper Thornton as Narrator; Gina Torres, Gina Rodriguez, Armie Hammer, Mckenna Grace, Frances Fisher and Michael Beach

What’s most interesting about a film that comes out of The Black List is how a virtual table read can still feel intimate, but once the film is made, emotions come out in different ways.

With Gifted, the story is about a young girl with a mathematical mind who is pushed into a normal elementary school to learn to socialize. The movie has an emotional punch without action, but with the action, it’s more haunting.

When I first “saw” Gifted at that table read, I don’t remember crying, but as I watched the film the other week, it was a waterworks from beginning to end.

Gifted was released in theatres on April 12 and was written by Tom Flynn. The film also stars young actress Mckenna Grace (she plays the daughter of President Tom Kirkman on Designated Survivor), Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and Lindsay Duncan (Sherlock and Under the Tuscan Sun).

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In WGN America’s Underground, death and hard times are par for the course. However, for a show that tackles the struggles of slavery in the US, it also has no qualms in killing characters regularly and without mercy.

Last season, one more than half of the Macon Seven survived, and beyond the three dead of that seven, other characters met cruel ends. However, in those episodes no death was as shocking as the one that ended the premiere of the show this season.

In “Contraband,” John Hawkes (Marc Blucas) was violently shot in the head after deciding to run for office in Ohio. Until then, the episode had been rather hopeful, meeting new characters and discovering new obstacles, but in that last moment, all of the hope faded.

Killing John was different from the death of his brother, Tom (Reed Diamond), who was hung by his mistress and leader of the house slaves, Ernestine. However, after watching that season I had come to dislike Tom’s actions and choices while admiring what John choose to do (that they were each on one side of the slavery battle helped), John’s hopeful attitude and his desire to help free his brother’s slaves made him one way for the audience to enter the show.

With John’s death, though, one emotional center died. The show’s focus now allows for the pain of his death to drive other characters forward, but this time, the push forward feels different.

The next new episode of Underground will air this Wednesday, March 29 at 10/9c on WGN America.

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the-good-place

The Good Place ended earlier this season with a jaw-dropping finale that both resets the show and keeps it exactly the same.

With that idea in mind, and referencing just a bit of Supernatural and Groundhog’s Day, here’s what I’d love to see in Season Two of The Good Place:

1. Something like what happened in Supernatural’s “Mystery Spot”, where there are just enough changes to the second season from the first season for fans to notice, but still feel like a slightly different season;

2. More of Eleanor’s new soulmate. Man looked good;

3. Janet helping Eleanor figure out how to find Chidi, Jianyu and Tahani; and,

4. More characters that aren’t all connected to working with Michael and his grand design.

What do you want to see more from The Good Place in season two?

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the-crown

This TV season brought not one, but two series about famous monarchs and as both featured two of the three British Queens, it’s nearly impossible not to compare both shows from the start. The Crown and Victoria, tackling Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria (respectively), have similar starting places – young queens with dozens of men surrounding them trying to influence policy – and even have some of the same cast: actor Alex Jennings is both David, Duke of Windsor (in The Crown), and King Leopold of Belgium (in Victoria) – but the focus of each show is different.

The Crown is taking a longer look at the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, from the early days of her rule (as seen in the first season) and progressing through more current times. During the shows run, multiple actresses will play the Queen through the years, and hopefully the two or three other women will do just as well as Claire Foy has done so far. In the first season, Elizabeth’s advisors constantly try to govern for her, be it Churchill, Prince Philip, or her private secretary. She simply follows so much of what these men tell her as if it is status quo that it is hard to find her power and strength amid all the other voices.

With Victoria, Jenna Coleman plays the young Victoria, who ultimately shaped modern Britain that we still see today. She too, follows along with some of what her Prime Minister says (though with the added hint of a sexual attraction), but after she is married to Prince Albert, Albert does his best to guide his wife and monarch.

victoria

However, given that both women are strong rulers, who are equally defiant in their roles as monarch, it’s hard not to compare both shows.

The Crown has the money behind it to really make the life of Queen Elizabeth shine, but it does not focus as much on what Elizabeth might want, whereas Victoria gives the audience a strong sense of what Victoria wants and how she goes about getting it.

Though we all know the history behind both rulers, Victoria seems more willing to bend the truth for the sake of drama (the flirting Victoria does with Lord Melbourne and how she wasn’t already smitten with Albert as the two shining examples of inaccuracies), but if anything The Crown wants Elizabeth’s story to be as real as possible.

Of course, the rationale behind both shows is different and at the heart of each, there is a different purpose and a different audience (with different reactions; it’s much easier to glorify the past rather than the current) but in the end, each show is about a woman ruling Britain, and that is where any comparisons should end.

Is it hard to do just that? Yes, at least for me. But, the next seasons of each show may make it easier to separate them as being of the same cloth.

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