The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the agents are drinking. It's upfronts season in New York! This is the week the broadcast networks throw fancy parties to announce the new shows they'll be canceling in a few months and celebrate the returning veterans whose survival was brokered through a bruising backroom combination of studio strong-arming, dumb luck, and blind optimism. Over the next few days I'll be posting my thoughts on all of the announcements, with the giant caveat that I haven't yet actually seen any of the new shows in question. Which isn't such a big deal because, odds are, you won't be seeing them for very long either.
Next up: ABC
On the surface, ABC (which, it must be disclosed, shares a corporate parent with Grantland) would appear to have three major advantages going into the 2013-14 season. Scandal, its sudsy Thursday-night body wash (as in adult soap; I'm not giving this up until it catches on), is TV's hottest drama, the rare modern show given time to find its audience that actually went ahead and found it. Modern Family, though now more sour than sweet, remains a ratings giant and Emmy magnet on Wednesday nights. And rival NBC is still around, hemorrhaging viewers and doing things like this, making it the easy and obvious target for the jokes of easy and obvious TV critics.
But dig a bit deeper and it's clear: ABC is in a situation more desperate than a housewife and one not even Olivia Pope could fix. Despite the above-mentioned tentpoles — and including reliable reality performers The Bachelor and Dancing With the Stars — ABC has actually spent the last two seasons in an epic-fail-off with the Peacock punching bag, spending most of 2013 in last place among the 18-to-49-year-old viewers that advertisers care about. President Paul Lee's highly touted 2012 crop of new dramas — Last Resort, 666 Park Avenue, Zero Hour, and Red Widow — all detonated faster than a nuclear missile from a rogue submarine inadvisably parked on Thursday nights, and the non–Shonda Rhimes hours that survived (weakened Revenge, word-of-mouth-fueled Nashville) are teetering. Still, Lee's plan to stop the bleeding is a good one: He intends to broadcast most of his dramas as two uninterrupted blocks of 12 episodes in the fall and spring, à la Lost. The only issue? These new shows aren't Lost.
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder" is a phrase. While often used to describe the passion that lovers experience when forced apart for a long time, it also succinctly illustrates my relationship with the no. 1 verified-Twitter-account-user diving competition on television, Splash.
I went strong for the first three episodes, with thorough recaps complete with commentary, speculative drug-use accusations, and GIFs, but then I hit a wall. I couldn't do it anymore. Each Tuesday evening, I thought about turning it on and writing about it for the next day, but for four straight weeks (Episodes 4-7), I couldn't get myself to do it.
But now we're here. The final episode. And while ridiculous, it's time to give this show a proper sendoff.
If a comedy falls on a Friday, does it make a sound? That's the puzzle presented by Happy Endings, television's most consistently funny sitcom. A few weeks away from wrapping up a terrific third season, the ABC show finds itself banished to Fridays, its final 10 episodes being burned off two at a time. This is only the latest indignity for the series, which debuted in a new Tuesday time slot in late October to great critical fanfare and more-than-acceptable ratings. Since then it's been yanked around like a ponytail in a Serbian catfight: first adding a second original airing on Sundays at 10 p.m., and then being pulled from the schedule completely for all of February before being condemned to its current nebulous fate. Happy Endings remains as fizzy as ever, but entertainment president Paul Lee seems content to waste it, continuing a sorry network tradition of pouring out perfectly good champagne into a puddle.
That Happy Endings deserves better is almost not worth saying. The show has evolved from a tepid Friends clone into a gloriously cacophonous wonder. The cast has the best chemistry on television — from the feral attraction between hot marrieds Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. to the sly pranking of Adam Pally and Elisha Cuthbert — but the longer the show has gone on, that chemistry has turned wonderfully corrosive. The six leads have become less Ross and Rachel — especially now that the show's inciting incident, the altar abandonment of Zachary Knighton's Dave by Cuthbert's deliriously dumb Alex, has been retconned back to contented coupledom — and more Seinfeld: an enthusiastically vicious gang that hangs out together because no one else could possibly tolerate them. As Casey Wilson's Penny told Dave last Friday with a warm smile: "You're one of my oldest friends, but if we met now we'd be enemies."
Every week, television documentaries present us with so many unusual people, with so many strange and/or disturbing problems, you might find it hard to keep up with all of them. That's where I come in! Here's an unflinching look back at TV's Week in Freak Shows.
Hoarding: Buried Alive (TLC)
Who Is This Now? Louise.
Why Are We Watching Her? She has hoarded so much in her multiple apartments and storage spaces that they're past the point of usefulness.
How Did She Get Here? To hear her describe it, she has an extremely emotional attachment to every item she's collected; multiple times, she notes that she doesn't have children or pets — just her things — and that she takes the responsibility of taking care of them very seriously. Unfortunately, she also came into what a friend describes as "a great deal of money" about 30 years ago, when her parents died, which enabled her compulsive shopping. But now, even though the amount she inherited would have been enough for any normal person to live on for the rest of his or her life, Louise is nearly broke. And if she doesn't clean out her apartments and possibly sell some of her stuff, she will be destitute.
On February 8, Christina Ricci was cast as the lead in NBC's comedy pilot Girlfriend in a Coma. Based on the Douglas Coupland novel about a thirtysomething who wakes up from an 18-year coma to discover she has a daughter about to graduate from high school — and inevitably doomed to be retitled something generically dim like Wake Up! — the project seemed like a good fit for the wry actress. Ricci had been in search of something to smirk about for years, doubly so since her first foray into TV, 2011’s Pan Am, crashed shortly after takeoff. Girlfriend features a tart script from Nurse Jackie creator Liz Brixius — a childhood friend of network president Bob Greenblatt — and seemed to inch ever closer to pickup on February 15 with the casting of tweenage famebot Miranda Cosgrove as the daughter Ricci's never met. Then, on Tuesday, Ricci was suddenly out. It was a fatality so swift only Wednesday Addams could appreciate it.
About a month ago, ABC announced it was moving the low-rated but critically beloved Happy Endings to a one-hour burn-off block on Fridays, the programming equivalent of stabbing the show in the gut with a rusty steak knife, setting it atop a sickly donkey, and waving wanly as it's carried off to whatever fate awaits it in the sweltering desert. Good luck out there, old friend! And, oh, you might want to get that hole in your stomach checked out. Two-episode blocks on Friday nights are not a vote of confidence as much as they're a phone call to the funeral parlor to inquire about grieving room availability.
Every January, the five broadcast networks place orders for roughly 100 new projects — two-thirds of which will never be aired — in hopes of finding a couple of shows that can plug holes in their prime-time schedules, and a few more to which they can affix the ignominious title of “midseason replacement.” It’s called pilot season, and it's kind of like the draft, but for TV. All the networks are flush with optimism, feeling great about their new pickups' potential — still months away from the harsh realities that come with the start of the fall season, when they learn that their veterans have nothing left in the tank, their promising rookies can't stay on the court, and that project they passed on is averaging a triple-double in the ratings for a rival.
Of course, at this point there’s not much to go on, since few details about the project are released to the press. For the vast majority of pilots, the only info we get is the log line — a one- or two-sentence summary of the plot that is often vague and sometimes downright perplexing — and the names of the writers and producers. Casting is now under way on nearly all pilots, and the caliber of talent a project attracts can be a major clue as to the quality of the script. But that's pretty much it. By the end of this month, most pilots will be in production, plodding inexorably toward failure.
It is with heavy heart and churning stomach that we pass along the most gut-punchingly tragic development of the 2013 television season: Bachelor Pad will not be returning this summer for an expected fourth cycle of booze-guzzling, hot tub–tainting, trust-obliterating shenanigans.
The news, since confirmed by a bummed-out EW, was first delivered not with a bang, but with a whimper by Mike Fleiss, the mastermind behind the The Bachelor family of reality TV products:
With The Bachelor finale this week, you would assume Sean The Boring Bachelor’s big decision would be the lead of this column. I mean, it has to be, right? What could possibly have happened in reality TV that would top Sean The Boring Bachelor finally choosing his partner for life/three more Us Weekly covers? What human act could be more significant than pure ForeverLove? Only one human act can trump ForeverLove, and that act is ... a back rub.
We hate to say we told you so, but the uncomfortable fact of the matter — a fact that once again validates the ruthless efficacy of our Bachelor School learning program — is that we were right. We told you after the premiere episode, and we're reminding you now — not for ego-gratification purposes, but out of our solemn commitment to helping you win that final rose at all costs:
Don't wear a wedding dress on your first day.
It's the simplest of lessons. When you step out of the limousine delivering you to the threshold of Bachelor Mansion, wear anything but a wedding dress. Even now, the morning after Sean chose his ForeverLove, you might wrongheadedly question the logic of this rule, dismissing us as a rose-petal-devouring Cassandra while thinking, That wedding dress got Lindsay noticed. She made it all the way to the finale. Seems like it worked.
This week, it was just me and Grandma. No friends. No wife. Just us. Grandma was fired up — taking her position on the couch around 7:15 p.m. Around 8:15, she grabbed her cane and scrambled to the back of the house in a panic, thinking that we had missed the first 15 minutes. When I explained to her that we were recording the show, she gave me a look that said, “I don’t care if you are recording it, The Bachelor is on, and we’re watching it now.”
Well, Grandma was right. Women Tell All shows are always kind of a drag — the only real joy is in evaluating exactly what type of “I just got dumped on national TV so I need to change up my look” adjustments the women made to their hair. But this season’s show had a moment — a transcendent accusation that severely damaged Sean’s reputation as Mr. Perfect-Bring-Home-to-Mom and totally cemented one bachelorette's reputation as that of a hot, obsessive, uber-organized alien cyborg. It was so fucking good.
The Bachelor broke my Grandma. You see, my Grandmother-in-law is staying with us this winter, she joined me for the Monday night viewing, and she hasn’t been the same since. When I saw her at breakfast Tuesday morning we had the following exchange:
Me: “How did you sleep last night?” Grandma:“I couldn’t sleep.” Me: “Why?” Grandma: “Because of that thing you showed me last night." [Gestures toward the TV.] Me: “What do you mean?” Grandma: “All I could think of was all those girls crying and carrying on about that man.”
Grandma is old school. She was raised in the mountains of Jamaica where they didn’t have The Bachelor, or ABC, or TV — they had farm animals and stuff. It was a delightful experience watching this program with her. She had no idea what was going on, but with her wisdom and general Grandma mojo she dissected the whole dynamic with ease and had more acute and accurate reads on the show than I did. It may have something to do with the fact that she showed up to my house with a big ol’ bottle of HGH. Who knows? Anyway, for each of The Bachelor scoring breakdowns I am adding Grandma’s take as well as mine. She would make a much better GRTFL recap writer than I am. Grandma is the best.
Bad news for everyone's not that many people's favorite gang of Chicago-based pun-favoring best friends: ABC is moving little-watched Happy Endings — the slapdash sitcom that Grantland's own Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming Andy Greenwald calls "one of the best shows on all of television" — to Fridays, where, presumably, it will die a whimpering, mostly painless death.
There is no chance that I make it all the way through this column. First of all, four hours of The Bachelor is just too much Bachelor. Frankly, four hours is too much anything aside from, like, vacations and watching LeBron James pop a molly. Second, how am I going to make fun of the tragic death of a 12-year-old, a crying one-armed woman, and the supposed “sobriety” of Kim Richards without getting sued, fired, or the shit beat out of me? I can’t, I really can’t. I apologize ahead of time to my editors and every single person I am about to write about. Actually, no, I take that back, I apologize to everyone I am about to write about aside from Tierra. I can’t stand Tierra.
You know what? I’ve turned a corner. Week after week, this column is full of pun jokes, insults about physical appearances, and catty comments about the idiocy of the imbeciles of reality TV. I've had enough; this week the GRTFL goes heady. I'm going to intelligently tackle the complicated issues we face as a society and go straight New Yorker in this bitch. Time to show my range. Instead of breaking down the way Selma’s boobs turned on her and tried to strangle her while she was rock climbing, I'd rather address the complications she faces as a Muslim woman finding love in a modern American society. Instead of pointing and laughing at Yolanda for her dedication to domestic perfection, I'd rather use her marriage as a jumping-off point for an essay on how the new gender roles at home affect gender roles at the office. Oh, wait, just remembered, no I wouldn’t. Why fix what isn’t broke? Let’s make fun of these assholes ...