Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cream of the Crop: Raising Hope

With each new television season, there's a giant new crop of television shows. Some of them are rotten, others are just okay, but a few shine as the cream of the crop. In this series of posts, I'm going to share with you the three new shows from the last year that I've watched and enjoyed.

Well, it's time for the last installment of Cream of the Crop, for this year at least. I sincerely hope you've enjoyed this series, and maybe even decided to start watching one of my selections. I apologize that this last installment is a little late. I was hoping to have this series done before the new television season began, but that just didn't happen.

For my last but certainly not least pick of the year, I've chosen the FOX comedy Raising Hope. Last year, Raising Hope aired right after Glee (this year it's Glee, New Girl, then Raising Hope), so I caught a few minutes of it here and there. I decided to check it out on Hulu, and I found myself watching all of the available episodes in one sitting.

Would you like a synopsis of the show? It's about raising Hope. Ba dum ch. I'm just kidding; I can go into a little more detail than that. The show centers around the Chance family: Jimmy, his parents, and his grandmother. Jimmy has a one night stand with a girl, only to realize the next morning that she's a serial killer. She ends up getting pregnant and has Jimmy's baby before being electrocuted. Jimmy decides to raise the baby with the help of his family. He also has a crush on his friend Sabrina. Now, all that I just told you is about to become irrelevant because it's much more entertainingly summed up in this song from Raising Hope's second season premiere (found via Entertainment Weekly).

Raising Hope works for several reasons. One of the reasons is that it doesn't look down on its characters. Sure, it sometimes mocks their blue-collar craziness, but it treats them as real characters rather than one-dimensional stereotypes. Secondly, it has heart. I know that's one of the oldest cliches that can be said about a story, but it's really true in this case. The Chase family may bicker, but at the end of the day, they're a family that cares about each other. The show often veers into dark comedy (Hope's mother is electrocuted while Hope and Jimmy watch), but it has really sweet moments. Thirdly, the twins that play Hope are among the cutest and most expressive babies on television right now.

While the characters may not be the brightest people in the world, Raising Hope is surprisingly pretty clever. It occasionally uses easy jokes (there was a vomit gag early on that really grossed me out), but many of its jokes are witty and current. On the second season premiere, there was a storyline that reminded me of a plot I'd seen on Happy Endings, another one of my Cream of the Crop picks. Not only did Raising Hope subvert the plot, but they even referenced the episode of Happy Endings (and subtly, not even by name).

Raising Hope is a surprisingly funny, sweet comedy that is well worth checking out. You might be surprised at how enjoyable it is. You can watch season two of Raising Hope Tuesdays on FOX at 9:30/8:30c. If you want to check out its first season, it's currently streaming on Netflix.

What are your thoughts about Raising Hope? Do you think it's worthy of the "Cream of the Crop" title? Are there any shows that I missed that you would have chosen as part of the "Cream of the Crop?" As always, I'd love for you to share your thoughts below.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Fall Pilots You Can Watch Right Now

It's getting to be that time of the year when the new fall television shows are premiering. I believe that Ringer kicked off the premiere of the pilots last night (which I've yet to see any of other than its much-ridiculed boat scene but sadly haven't heard great things about). Tonight, the CW is premiering H8R (yes, that's actually the show's title). On Thursday, NBC is airing the pilots of Up All Night and Free Agents, and the CW is airing the pilot of The Secret Circle.

While Ringer may have been the only pilot to air so far, there are a few other pilots you can check out now.

As I mentioned in my last post, New Girl is currently available on Comcast ON Demand. I've since learned that it's also available as a free download on iTunes. I wasn't extremely impressed with New Girl, but I think it might have some potential. For a more detailed description of my thoughts on the pilot, you can check out my post specifically about New Girl.

Also on iTunes, you can download the pilot of CW's new show The Secret Circle. I haven't watched this pilot, so I can't give you much of a recommendation as to whether you should watch it or not. 

Finally, the pilot for ABC's soapy drama Revenge is currently available online. If you download a free script for the show off Amazon's Kindle store, you'll find a link to pilot. I'd wholeheartedly recommend this pilot. It's definitely soapy, but it's much less cheesy than I thought it would be. It was really enjoyable, especially for a pilot. Revenge is a fun, vengeancey show, and I'm excited to see where they're going with it.

Have you seen any of the pilots of the fall season yet? Are you planning on watching any of this weeks' premieres? Do you know of any other available pilots? As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Edited to add: I've just come across another new pilot that's available online: Showtime's Homeland. I haven't heard much about it, to be honest, but I thought I'd share the link for anyone who's interested. You can check it out on Vulture.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New Girl: My Thoughts on the Pilot

As I was browsing through the Comcast ON Demand offerings, I saw Fox’s upcoming comedy New Girl listed. I figured it was just a short featurette, but to my surprise, they had the complete pilot available. Intrigued, I decided to give it a shot.

Credit: FOX

Before I get too far into this review, I have to make a disclaimer; I went into New Girl with negative expectations. I was somewhat curious about it, but I didn’t like the previews. My biggest issue with New Girl’s pilot is something that had already bothered me in the trailer: I found Zooey Deschanel’s character to be annoying. I’ve enjoyed Zooey in other movies like Elf and 500 Days of Summer, but I thought her performance in New Girl was too over-the-top in its quirkiness. It’s not just Zooey’s fault; the script practically begs viewers to see her character, Jessica, as adorably quirky because she sings a lot and wears glasses. There were a few brief moments where I bought into her character and thought her to be funny. It’s possible that these brief moments could be glimmers of improvement in the future. However, I currently find the character annoying for the most part. I could see some viewers finding her endearing, and I think most people’s opinions about New Girl are going to depend on if Zooey’s character and performance works for them.

I enjoyed her male counterparts a bit more. They form a fun little group and were well cast. However, I was a little disappointed at how one-dimensional the male characters are. Damon Wayans Jr.’s aptly named character, Coach, is portrayed simply as the tough, sometimes insensitive coach, and Max Greenfield’s Schmidt is the girl-obsessed toolish guy. Jake Johnson’s character, Nick, is the closest to having more than one dimension, but he’s still just the guy who’s not over his girlfriend. To be fair, it’s hard to develop characters in a short thirty minute pilot, and I feel like this flaw will be quickly overcome. The three actors have a nice chemistry together. Unfortunately for New Girl, that chemistry is going to be disrupted. Damon Wayans Jr. is currently working on the second season of Happy Endings, so his character has been written off after the pilot. I’m curious how the replacement of his character will affect the group dynamic.

Plotwise, I wasn’t really impressed with New Girl’s pilot. If you’ve seen the show’s trailer, you’ve seen the whole plot of the first episode. There’s just not that much to it, and it’s far from original. Again, this is somewhat forgivable because this was a pilot. Pilots often have scanty plots because they have the difficult task of setting up a series. I did really enjoy the series’ premise. The idea of three guys adjusting to living with a girl may not be an out-of-the-box idea, but it's a fun one. There's a lot of interesting ground that the show could cover.

New Girl's pilot definitely had that pilot feel to it. I see this as both a bad and a good thing. It’s a bad characteristic because it gave it an raw and slightly unfinished mood. As an episode, this pilot just didn’t work that well for me. The writing wasn’t particularly unique or witty, and the main character annoyed me. As a pilot setting up a show, however, it did a decent job. This pilot feel could be a good thing because it gives some hope that New Girl will improve over time and just needs to find its footing.  Plenty of great shows have had mediocre pilots. Plus, there were a couple of moments that I enjoyed, and the premise has a lot of promise. I think New Girl will instantly charm a lot of people. It has that hipstery, Zooey Deschanel vibe going for it, and some people will be drawn to that. Personally, however, pilot just didn’t work for me, I’m probably not going to seek out future episodes unless I hear that it’s improved, but I might stop and watch another episode if I found it while flipping through channels.

If you’re interested in checking out New Girl, you can watch it on Comcast ON Demand like I did, or you can watch it Tuesdays on FOX at 9/8c starting September 20.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on New Girl in the comments. Do you plan on watching pilot? If you've seen the pilot, what did you think? Do you think you'll watch regularly?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reality TV: The Importance of Having a Favorite?

I'm not sure if I've ever talked about it on here, but I've been a fan of Big Brother since its eighth season. Before then, I, lacking in basic literary references, assumed it had something to do with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. Once I gave it a shot, however, I realized it was a lot more interesting than that. Now, I know it's trashy, but I can't help but get sucked into it. Each season, I like to pick someone (or multiple people) to root for in the competition (Sadly, I guess reality television is to me what sporting events are to many people). Unfortunately, at this point in the current season, I'm not sure who I want to win. I feel like I need to root for someone, so I've basically defaulted to rooting for two contestants by eliminating the three I don't want to win.

This got me thinking about the importance of having a favorite contestant (or multiple ones) when watching reality television. I may not always choose a favorite contestant, but I normally pick someone to root for once I've seen a couple of episodes when I watch a show regularly. It makes it much easier for me to be invested in the outcome. I wouldn't necessarily stop watching a show if I despised all of the contestants, but I definitely prefer to have a favorite.

Sometimes the casting people do a wonderful job, and I really like a certain reality television contestant. When I was younger, I was such a huge Ruben Studdard (America Idol) fan that I made buttons showing my support with my B-Stylin' Button Designer that I thankfully just wore at home. Recently, I shared with you my support of Damian in The Glee Project. If I don't have an obvious favorite, I normally just pick the best of the worst.  This season of Big Brother is a good example of that. Regardless, I like having a favorite.

Now, I want to know what you think on the matter of favorite contestants. Feel free to vote in the following poll, or you can leave a more detailed response in the comments.