Risky Viewing & Skittish TV Producers

breakout kings promo photoClearly, not everybody liked Fastforward, ABC’s sci fi series adapted from a Canadian novel that aired right after V, which had its own successful franchise history. But geez, I liked Fastforward. It was part mystery, part detective show—complete with fancy FBI offices and Courtney B. Vance—and it was heavy on the temporal destabilization, which I always enjoy. It had a huge cast of characters in the V spirit, even, and I liked the performances from Joseph Feinnes, John Cho, Jack Davenport (though he’ll always be Steve to me), and Gabrielle Union. But before anything too big could be revealed about what was going on, what Jericho really was up to, or what the next flashforward meant, ABC pulled the plug on the series.

Now we would never find out. To say it was a bummer would be a gross underestimation.

This season, I found enough to like about The Chicago Code; I appreciate a narrative that can weave in past and current story arcs in a way that makes me bond to the characters. Jennifer Beals’ accent was terrible, and there was a lot about Chicago that the show seems to misunderstand. Perhaps the writers would have benefited by taking note of the success of The Good Wife, because that’s also set in the windy city and yet the bare-knuckle politics that the town is known for never seem stilted.

At any rate, it doesn’t matter what I liked or didn’t about it because again, it was canceled and there will be no sophomore season. Thankfully a few plot points got tied up pretty well and viewers got something of a payoff in the arrest of the evil, expertly tailored Ronan Gibbons, played to aces by Delroy Lindo. But now I’ll never get to watch the addictive chemistry of Vonda and Isaac, and I will sorely miss Jason Clarke’s portrayal of what I thought was one of the best nuanced detectives on current television.

I’m sick of this fast cutting while insipid shows like The Real Housewives of <<INSERT CITY HERE> play ad nauseum on Bravo. I don’t want to get left hanging again, never to know for the rest of my days what might have happened in these made-up universes. And so I present:

Strategies for watching 21st Century televison

1. Watch series that have been around a few years—catch up quickly on Netflix, Hulu, and other Internet providers.

2. Watch a short series or miniseries with a limited narrative arc, like The Killing, The 4400, The Prisoner, and so on.

3. If you must take a risk on a new series, stick to original cable programming—Rizzoli & Isles likely would have been canceled before the seventh episode on Fox, but it’s around for a new season on TNT.

4. Dig out your complete DVD set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, or West Wing, and watch them all over again.

5. Watch BBC programming, which tend to run short seasons and typically finish story arcs before the series ends.

6. Stop watching new Fox shows. Just stop. Wait until any given series has established itself. And even then, it may be chancy.

7. Watch movie channel series—even though these are subscription channels, they tend to stick to their shows. How else to explain Showtime’s Queer as Folk and The L Word? Bad shows get to live a long time, on average.

I’m not saying this will always lead to great, high-quality television. Some of these shows are not terribly great. And there are the occasional gems, like Damages, that struggle to find a venue. But in the new television economy, the networks don’t have the cornerstone on the best writers, actors, and production values. Might as well see why Leverage is so awesome, right? By the way, it’s about to start its fourth season.

Also, go back and watch Breakout Kings from the beginning. You’ll thank me.

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Categories: popular culture

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