Nicole Beharie, Tom Mison
Question: So we had the first cancellation of the season with Lucky 7 after two showings. There are no tears from me as I never watched it. My question is: On what planet did anyone ever perceive this show's premise to be interesting or sustainable? Out of the hundreds of pilots, it is sometimes hard to believe someone at ABC thought this was one of the best. What do you think is next? — Rob
Matt Roush: Next for ABC, or next in the long annals of "what were they thinking" pilots? (That sound you hear is ABC kicking itself for not keeping Body of Proof around as a back-up, because for the time being, Scandal repeats will be airing in place of the unlucky 7.) To be fair, Lucky was based on a more successful British series, The Syndicate, but something clearly got lost in translation. (Same thing must have happened regarding ABC's equally mediocre Betrayal, based on a Dutch series and adapted by the same exec producer, who's batting 0 for 2 right now.) Your point about the sustainability of a pilot's premise is a good one, and comes up frequently when analyzing the failure of shows as disparate as last season's Last Resort and (though it may be premature) this season's Hostages — more on that one later. But from the moment many of us saw clips of Lucky 7 at last spring's upfront presentation, it felt like nothing we could imagine almost anyone would want to see. And we were right.
Until CBS stops going for Broke, it may be hard for Mom, one of the season's more promising and pungent new comedies, to get the break it, and the title character, deserves. What's happening to CBS on Monday with its once-dominant comedy lineup is a slow-fade version of the freefall NBC experienced with its Thursday lineup in the wake of Friends. Holding on to shows too long (How I Met Your Mother, which could have wrapped this whole thing way earlier), promoting shows too soon with too little to offer (the shrill and increasingly charmless 2 Broke Girls), making odd decisions like keeping the award-winning Mike & Molly on the shelf in favor of an insta-dud like the abysmal We Are Men, this is one of those rare nights when CBS's programming acumen has mostly crapped out. (Monday's loss is, of course, Thursday's gain, with former Monday anchors The Big Bang Theory and, to a lesser degree these days, the played-out Two and a Half Men helping get early sampling for newbies The Millers and The Crazy Ones.)
Next to Charlie Brown's Great Pumpkin, my favorite Halloween TV touchstone is The Simpsons' annual "Treehouse of Horror" special, with Mad Magazine-worthy parodies of things that go "D-oh!" in the night. It's airing unusually early this year in advance of post-season baseball pre-emptions, but what better way to get in the spirit — and as a bonus for the 24th edition (Sunday, 8/7c, Fox), horror maestro Guillermo Del Toro has designed an elaborate "couch gag" opening sequence that's a kaleidoscopic homage to...
After her breakthrough performances in Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, no one would question why Rebel Wilson has become a sought-after star, or why ABC would want to build a show around her ample and fearlessly outrageous talents. But Super Fun Night hasn't been much of a joyride so far.
The original pilot, which has been replaced by another episode for its official premiere (9:31/8:31c), elicited this reaction from me in the Fall Preview issue: "The grotesque extremes to which Wilson stoops to get laughs in this frenetic vehicle have a whiff of desperation. It might also be more fun if she used her authentic Aussie accent." The objection stands about her Americanized speech (her choice), and while the new opener is a little less degrading — instead of exposing her body on a city street with flashing lights on her underwear, a new gag involves an office elevator door shredding her dress, revealing her Spanx at work — it's not much funnier.
Cote de Pablo
Among last week's more encouraging TV signs: On the first Tuesday of the official fall season, it felt a bit like a return to the good (or at least simpler) old days when network TV was the dominant game in town, and crowded time periods could support more than one hit. In prime time's starting position of 8/7c, there appear to be three blockbusters duking it out:
"It's over. And I needed a proper goodbye."
Well, Walter White, you certainly got one. And so did the swelling ranks of Breaking Bad fans, as this remarkable series went out, like Heisenberg himself, on its own terms Sunday night, on a creative high and at the peak of its acclaim and popularity, a week to the night of its Emmy triumph.
Cunningly plotted as always and masterfully directed by Vince Gilligan to maximize the emotional suspense and dark humor, the series finale was not so much redemption as reckoning for the mensch-turned-monster so brilliantly and unsparingly played by Bryan Cranston. It will rank high among TV's all-time great finales because this was a true and satisfying climax to a tremendous show, tragic yet oddly uplifting. Breaking Bad never outstayed its welcome, and sad as we are to see it (and Walter) go, this fiendishly thrilling immorality play achieves modern-classic status by living up to its high standards when it needed to most.
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Question: On your recommendation, I watched the first episode of Mom. Why do sitcoms insist on using these horrible laugh tracks still? I found it so distracting it took away from any viewing pleasure. I'll sample the show again because I really like the actors, but do you hate laugh tracks as much as I do? — Rob
We Are Men
Whatever the male species did to deserve the recent run of lousy comedies that neuter them into a bland, whiny pudding — the trajectory of Man Up through Guys With Kids to CBS's new and painfully bland smarm-com We Are Men (8:30/7:30c) — can I just collectively say on behalf of the entire gender: We're sorry! Haven't we suffered enough?
Apparently not, because Men hits new lows in bromance abuse, cheapening the whole idea of "band of brothers" with its soggy account of male bonding at an apartment complex for jilted and/or unhappily divorced losers. The new kid on the block, Carter (Chris Smith), is left at the altar in a reverse-Graduate gag that's the cleverest part of the pilot. Such a milquetoast he makes How I Met Your Mother mensch Ted Mosby seem as dangerous as Ted Bundy, Carter is adopted by an unappealing threesome that includes middle-aged horndog Frank (Tony Shalhoub, slumming), sad sack Gil (Kal Penn, who's almost as hilarious here as he was as a wet blanket during HIMYM's dark period, which means not at all) and arrogant Stuart, overplayed by Jerry O'Connell, who parades around shirtless in a rainbow of Speedos that flaunt what some might call manhood. But they would be wrong.
These Men of no certain age and character aren't so much bad influences as terribly unfunny company.
All work and no foreplay makes Dr. William Masters anything but a dull boy.
With the assistance of a free-thinking single mother named Virginia Johnson, this renowned fertility specialist and pioneer in the study of sexual physiology challenges the repressive social mores of the late '50s, when Peyton Place is considered risqué and most people (according to Masters) "sit hunched in the dark like prudish cavemen filled with shame and guilt" when it came to thinking about sex.
Robin Williams and James Wolk
Comebacks are big news this fall — James Spader enjoyed one on Monday with the splashy premiere of NBC's The Blacklist — and nowhere is this more true than on Thursdays, with three high-profile comedy vehicles for beloved stars from sitcoms past. And while conventional wisdom has long suggested that it's easier to create new stars on TV — Sleepy Hollow's Tom Mison, anyone? — than to build new shows around old favorites, what really matters is giving them material that lives up to the billing.