Several network series return this week, but the fall season starts in earnest next week. Before the premieres kick off, here are SoS TV Editor Kate Kulzick and SoS Managing TV Editor Deepayan Sengupta with their takes on the networks’ new offerings.
Note: Our thoughts are based on pilots that are works in progress, so there may be changes to these episodes before they air.
While Bryan Fuller’s style may be a bit too quirky, macabre, or esoteric for some audiences, there’s no denying that the man knows how to give good pilot. The first episode of Wonderfalls was an endearing, fast-talking affair that gradually injected fantasy into early 20s/retail ennui. The first episode of Pushing Daisies was nothing less than a storybook brought to life, a vibrant spin on the matters of life, death, and what happens when the order of the two reverses. And the first episode of Hannibal was a visceral, otherworldly affair that made it clear from the outset it wasn’t your parents’ Hannibal Lecter.
“Everyone has their own version of everything that’s ever happened.” There’s more weight and truth to these words Ann Dowd speaks than in any of the many speeches she got to deliver in The Leftovers. It’s an easy sentence to seize upon as a master key to interpreting the ideas in “Below the Belt,” but “easy” doesn’t mean “unintelligent.” It’s there from the opening scene, in which Gini confesses to her psychiatrist that she’s set all their sessions up as a charade to try to help Barb. It’s in the fundamental misunderstanding between Langham and Flo about the nature of their new sexual relationship. And of course, it’s at the heart of the episode’s biggest conflict, as Bill and Frank clash over whose version of their past is the truth.
The decision to devote a significant portion of an episode to Eph’s wife, whose name is Kelly (in case you understandably couldn’t remember), is pretty ballsy for The Strain at this stage of the game. This is a tangential character that we have literally no emotional connection with, but the crux of this storyline is the writers’ belief that we should care about her slow descent into vampirism. This is compounded by the fact that we can’t even connect to how this supposedly heartbreaking development will affect Eph, since we don’t really care. If the intention of these scenes is to have them weigh heavy on us emotionally, then they are an utter failure.
“Over the mountain and away from this place, I’ll get us there”
“Bear Man”, Hell on Wheels’sixth episode, set the show back on the right track after it had strayed into slow and uncertain territory. The episode was smart, featured an exceptional performance by Common, and was true to the show’s brutal but contemplative nature. We now know that Elam (Common) survived the bear attack last season, at least physically. It’s clear that he is unstable and dangerous. Its follow up, “Elam Ferguson”, proves to be an emotionally devastating episode that shows the dangers of this world.
Steven Moffat loves childhood fears. He’s mined them for some of nuWho’s most effective villains: Something lurking in the dark (the Vashta Nerada), a threat waiting to pounce the moment you look away (the Weeping Angels), and now, the monster under your bed. These creatures tap into the intense, pervasive fears so many experience as children and like its predecessors, “Listen” is hugely successful drawing from this well. It also takes a common and, when explored, curious habit and exploits it for significant dramatic potential: why do people talk to themselves when no one’s around? Both ideas have been explored by Moffat to some extent already (“The Girl in the Fireplace”, the Silence), and so here he puts them together, hoping that between the two, there’s enough new material to make the story work.
Sometimes it’s the simplest things which bring us the greatest of joys. This is the recurring theme that echoes through The Knick as we reach the halfway point for its first season. From a first bike ride to a cold beer with a co-worker, it is the most basic of life’s pleasures that get our characters through another tough week at the Knickerbocker Hospital.
With such an enormous boom in zombie fiction, it is understandable that many people met the Z Nationpreviews with an eye-roll. When something has become a cliché, it will always present the opportunity for a project in that vein to either bring new light to the tired theme or mock a storyline that has been done to death. Syfy’s Z Nation is not bringing anything new to the table, but with such hilarious lines obviously poking fun at the genre as, “God, I hate moral dilemmas!” it is easy to see how this show could be entertaining.
Coming off a bloody and shocking season finale, the final stretch of Sons of Anarchykicks things off with nothing less than a bloody and shocking premiere. The actual action takes up less than a third of the episode, with most of the super-sized premiere ending up as time spent watching various gangs and family members talk in circles about last season’s events. With only a handful of episodes to iron out all of the conflicts from last year’s denouement, set up a proper season arc, and tie everything up in a satisfying manner, one would think Sutter and co. would have a sense of urgency when it comes to moving the plot along. Instead, a small number pieces on the chessboard are shifted a few spaces while everybody else stands around and observes the events unfolding.