Saturday, November 17, 2012

It was all an experiment by the Chinese

This is the time of year that TV networks usually start announcing which of their shows are getting the ax, and as usual one of my favorite new shows is getting cancelled. I don't know why I ever bother to start watching thrillers with a good hook like Last Resort, because they always get cancelled and then I never get to find out who was behind whatever the mystery was and how the person who was in peril in the final episode gets out of the situation. And it drives me crazy. Remember Flash Forward? Yeah, I'm still wondering about that one.

How hard would it be for the writers of cancelled shows to put a summary online of what would have happened next? "Dear loyal fans: The secretary was the mole. The hot guy survives by climbing down a previously unnoticed elevator shaft but he is too late to save his girlfriend from blowing up. And it was all a secret experiment by the Chinese."

My very favorite shows, quirky and somewhat nerd-friendly comedies like Community and Chuck, tend to be cancelled and then uncancelled and the renewed for "just a few more episodes" for about four or five seasons before they actually die a death so completely that even rabidly devoted fans of the trekkie variety can't scare the network into continuing them. I think that's part of why they end up being so good-- the writers understand that whole "live every day like it's your last" mentality and throw the formulas out the window. "Yeah boss, we know the hero isn't supposed to overcome the major baddie until the season finale, but we felt like blowing him up today. You're cancelling us anyway so what do you care?"

But most people don't appreciate episodes of shows that revolve around chaos theory or computer hacking marathons or Tron. NBC, home to many critically adored but low-rated shows, said they are changing their comedy brand to appeal to a broader audience. They say they are going to do that by coming up with "totally unique" show ideas, but who are they kidding? Broad audiences don't like unique ideas, they like the CSI or NCIS or Law and Order teams to solve the crime every single week. They also don't like their humor about unique topics. They like it to go something like this: "Sex! Giggle giggle." Obviously the only difference between middle school boy humor and "adult" humor is experience. And lately bigotry also seems to be doing well. Apparently if it's a made-up character instead of a real-life politician or pundit who said it, it's called edgy humor instead of an outrage.

Of course, there are always some surprises. I thought Modern Family's zingy one-liners and subtle jokes (Stella!!!) might be too smart to survive, but it's a smash hit. And Go On is doing fairly well, even though it's on NBC. Who knew that so many other people would find a show about a guy whose wife died going to therapy with a bunch of other people who also had terrible things happen to them so hilarious?

Maybe there is hope for American television after all.

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