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Tika-SumpterBecause TV watching now entails at least two glowing screens at all times, here are some stories from around the interwebz:

  • Caleb moves back to Rosewood after spinoff flops. “Pretty Little Liars: Tyler Blackburn to Return as Series Regular” (via The Hollywood Reporter).
  • FOX renewal news: Mindy Kaling is getting another go at it whether you like it or not, along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Following, and New Girl (via TV by the Numbers).
  • Lastly, record-setting ratings for OWN with The Haves and the Have Nots finale and an undeniably valid reason for a Tika Sumpter pic. Yay! (via Variety)

Abbie Mills

Four episodes in, I’m ready to call it. Fox’s Sleepy Hollow is the best new series of the season. Excuse me, I meant to say: Sleepy Hollow is currently the best series on all of broadcast television. And this week’s “The Lesser Key of Solomon” adds a lot to an already stacked cache of appealing plot points and longterm storytelling elements. We are blessed with more time with Jenny Mills, our Lt. Abbie Mills’s estranged sister, who sports a compelling mixture of resentment, familial longing, and conviction like sporty sleeveless tees. The sisters Mills have a complicated past that prior episodes have teased out, but this episode serves well to remind viewers that they are indeed sisters first. Fighting, petty, grudge-holding, loving, loyal sisters. Along with Ichabod, Jenny and Abbie, for the time being, have put together an admittedly hostile but undeniably appealing core group of protagonists who just so happen to be heroines of color in a creepy, scary, US history-tinged fantasy world in upstate New York. All these things are better than whatever else you’re watching.

And heroines of color honestly can not be understated, largely because you will be hard pressed to find another on broadcast television at all, outside of maybe Nikita. (Wait, is that the same–No. It can’t be–Is she–YESSS!) And these two Black women are presented so unabashedly within this universe of action and mystery and intrigue, it’s almost as if televisions have somehow been found in homes of various sorts, on the mantles and walls of a broader audience of varying genders and colors, only just now. This show is certainly unique in its main cast’s demographics, but perhaps it’s most endearing quality is how that doesn’t seem to matter when telling a story about headless horsemen and demons and time traveling soldiers and German mercenaries from the revolutionary war. Really, you need to stop watching whatever else you’re watching.

This fourth episode also does extremely well in moving the series into the territory we all inherently want Sleepy Hollow to be in—a freaky, “monster of the week,” slowly unwrapping treat of a procedural, one we’ve been craving since the end of Fringe, and for some, since the end of X-Files more than a decade ago. Surely all the parts are in place: both major and minor antagonists and mysteries have been introduced with the hint of more to come; a rich corpus of both American history and supernatural mythos is up for grabs; Sleepy Hollow, New York is basically east coast Sunnydale, CA, very Hellmouth-y indeed; and lastly, we have a quirky team of able-bodied and mindful mystery solvers with various things to prove to themselves and others, a bunch of issues to struggle to resolve.

This last point is certainly the most important. Every one on the show is simply fun to watch and easy to invest into. Orlando Jones as the hard-nosed Captain Irving is refreshing and promising with certainly more to him than what we’ve seen. Tom Mison plays Ichabod Crane to a wonderful comedic affect that is never distracting when heads more seriously start to roll. Lyndie Greenwood, even though it saddens me deeply that this casts some serious doubt on how much Sonya will be present in the upcoming and final season of Nikita, is truly shining as Jenny. Still, how much of a regular to the show she becomes remains to be seen. But lastly and most notably, this is clearly Nicole Beharie’s show. She’s amazing. She carries the dramatic pacing and energy of the series in her small town cop holster and is simply gorgeous while doing it. No really, GORGEOUS. Honestly I’d watch her complete a Sudoku with her hair wrapped and her feet in bunny slippers while she sipped a chai latte and nibbled a biscotti each week for an hour. But that’s not to take away from how impressive this strange little show based on an often exploited 19th century short story has turned out to be. Still, if Beharie was headless, if I couldn’t watch her adorable face as she drives around town shooting monsters, wrangling her time-traveling partner and vigilante sister, all while managing her job and her silky, beautiful tresses, I probably wouldn’t watch. But for now I can still see her lovely head. You can too. Yay.

As the warm season approaches, networks often have difficult (and not-so) decisions to make regarding their schedules and roster of programming. Surely the ratings have a lot to do with the decision making processes, but, as fans, we like to believe other factors come into play to some extent — whether it’s product placement monetization, #hashtag trend prominence, or executives possibly playing favorites hopefully with our favorites. We choose to believe in these less quantifiable and more unconventional series success variables so to justify our hope in the future of a favorable TV landscape, a future of fully packed DVRs and neglected loved ones. The hope fuels the ubiquitous social media campaigns, the zealous written pleas mailed to the network in bulk (do people still do that?), and manic financial support for commercial sponsors. Whatever the cause for each decision, cancel or renew, either a fandom finds corroboration in an x number of episodes commitment or viewers curse the callousness of network suits and their unwavering reverence to whims of Nielsen homes.

And all of that is simply to say this — listed at times with brazen bias:

  • Community has been renewed by NBC for a fourth season of 13 episodes. Not a surprise necessarily but surely a relief to many. This season has been filled with ups and downs for Community fans — consistently low ratings followed by a long impromptu mid-season hiatus, then a solid return with quality episodes that appeared to showcase creator Dan Harmon’s pointed response to the show’s received criticisms and uncertain future. To top it all off, it’s funny as fuck. The recent episode “Curriculum Unavailable” provided a ceremonious goodbye to the paintball episode tradition and, in essence, the Community of old. Times are a-changin’. And Community still has time (a new time actually, on Fridays come Fall), even if, rumor has it, Dan Harmon doesn’t.
  • FOX is giving Fringe a fifth and final season of 13 episodes, 13 more opportunities for Peter-Olivia shippers to be simultaneously placated to and kept in a persistent state of unease. That Fringe.
  • NBC has also given 30 Rock the go ahead to produce 13 more episodes for what is being labeled the final season. The guarantee is more that Tina Fey and the gang will be returning, not necessarily that the amount of episodes is set in stone or in this being the true last season, last inevitable live episode, last batch of Donaghy-isms, etc.
  • TBS has successfully acquired Cougar Town from ABC, saving the comedy from certain cancellation. Another opportunity for comedic relativism (“You just don’t get it. It’s funny.”) to gain some traction for those that stand by Courtney Cox’s ability to deliver on humor.
  • A bunch of no brainers were renewed including: ABC’s Happy Endings and Shonda Rhimes stuffs; an assortment of CSINCIS’s on CBS; Parenthood, Smash and Law & Order:SVU on the peacock network; and Bones and New Girl on FOX.
  • New shows The Secret Circle, Ringer, both on the CW Network; GCG on ABC; The Finder and Breaking In on FOX; NBC’s Awake, Best Friends Forever, and Are You There Chelsea? have all been canceled, Awake due to its overly advanced brand of storytelling, the rest because they sucked. But to be fair, there’s no guarantee Breaking In will stay canceled — that sly Christian Slater.
  • Have you ever watched NYC 22? Good. And now you won’t have to.
  • TV by the Numbers has a handy list of all other cancelations and renewals for the whole season.
  • Finally, Community and Fringe have been renewed! (Still great news the second time around.)

We all knew it was coming. There’s truly something endearing about the guy who first appeared in the alternate universe, only to catch our eye and manifest later in our universe, noticeably more meek and bespectacled. Lincoln Lee, perhaps more than any other character, implicitly speaks to what FOX’s Fringe and its sci-fi entrenched multi-universes aim to teach us about identity, destiny, and its play-science. In our understanding of the world, Lincoln was part of the Fringe team literally before he even knew it. And this isn’t a coy interpretation of the story presented, not even a technicality. Just as the adorable Seth Gabel certainly doesn’t receive separate checks for playing multiple versions, Lincoln is one cohesive identity—one that is at some times confidence personified, while at other points, too docile to punch Peter in the face for stealing his crush (and her memories.) This week’s “Everything In Its Right Place” is thorough in its reveal that both Lincoln and alt-Lincoln share identical histories, visages, and relatives named Tyrone. Alt-Lincoln suggests that perhaps he just made a decision to not be our Lincoln, which, for all intents and purposes, may be true. But that still suggests that Lincoln is in no way an exclusive identity.

Contrast this with shape shifters apparently running amok throughout this episode and the alt-universe, in general. The freak-of-the-week, next-generation shapeshifting prototype is faulty but goes about violently confiscating the identities of several crooks in order to survive, in order to preserve his own identity. With the image of a loved one tucked in his wallet, the sympathetic shapeshifter is faulty mainly because of his earnest desire to sustain his own identity, unlike a good shape shifter, leading to the murder and face distortion of several corpses, exactly like a good shape shifter – the statement being that although identity and humanity are things truly resilient, they aren’t truly copiable, despite how it may seem sometimes. People have to die for our guy to even ostensibly become them. The clones, old and new, have always worked this ‘there can only be one’, Highlander sort of way, but this episode exposes how deeply rooted the sentiment is in the Fringe universe, perhaps more than any other before.

Spoiler-alert: alt-Lincoln dies. For clarification, Lincoln doesn’t die because there can’t be two guys named Lincoln (but there is a case to be made as to why Abraham and the Ford model are mysteriously not present in this episode.) It is very much the case that alt-Lincoln died because he was shot. But there does to be an interesting amount of baton passing from alt-Lincoln to our Lincoln, who only came to this universe in the first place on an angst riddled soul searching expedition (and, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, to deliver a box of stuff, and Astrid was assigned the job at first simply because Broyles apparently doesn’t respect her much.) Lincoln had questions and anxieties and uncertainties. The death of alt-Lincoln, if not addressing those things directly, coincided with certain revelations Lincoln may have discovered throughout this case. He became a hero today. He made that decision. Also, maybe more subtly (maybe not), there’s a whole other Olivia to fawn over stupid pouty faced Lincoln! And now you’re one of a kind.

He always was. Lincoln, like some of the other characters of the show (sorry Peter), has a unique opportunity to see themselves in a poignantly dynamic mirror. Of course, the Olivias, both Faux and not, are the sort to scoff at this chance, too stubborn and head strong to appreciate it for what it is unless it’s a threat, but it takes a special character like Lincoln to give us a sample to what the rest of us would see if we could see ourselves outside of the perspectives we’re metaphysically limited to. And in experiencing that sort of Lacanian mirror-stage of self-realization, would a part of us have to die?

You can't cancel a smile like that

FOX (the network) has finally decided to give up on the struggling Terra Nova, while FOX (the studio) remains optimistic for an afterlife, continuing to shop the series around town, according to TVbytheNumbers.

Reports have surfaced that the late Cretaceous period (that’s just fancy dinosaur talk for ya’) may still find an amicable TV home in the future. Netflix has shown interest in adding the newly defunct series to its original content master plan. Currently the streaming service features the lonely Norwegian American drama Lilyhammer, which seems appreciated by critics more for its innovative delivery than what it offers content-wise (a lackluster tagline reads “a New York mobster in Norway” but really just says ‘we had to start somewhere, shrug‘).

Netflix’s prospective programming becomes a bit more ambitious with upcoming additions of a Kevin Spacey starred political drama, House of Cards, and the alleged return of comedic golden child, Arrested Development (forever a skeptic until I see the return of the guy in the $4,000 suit… Come on!) The future promises television sprouting freely from the interwebs and the reanimation of network cadavers on a variety of screen sizes. Small screen purist may be a bit distrustful of the new kid on the block. But it seems, at least now, that there’s an undeniable benefit here. Terra Nova is still cancelled without the need for a half-hearted rescue campaign. Netflix has the resources and apparent willingness to house the tired, poor, huddled masses seeking refuge from the Nielsen box despotism of “real” television.

The primary impetus for the production of TV properties remains the same, altruism and charity and artistic expression, clearly, but the times call for using resources available to expand in new and inventive ways, not just hashtags for #everything, but some consideration for the conversations going on surrounding the hashtags. Terra Nova was a relative beast with the DVR numbers, that’s something traditional television metrics may not be ready or willing to embrace and consider, despite the tweets and likes on Facebook. So Netflix and similarly ambitious ventures, tossing the old model, potentially represent an expansion of TV as a whole into a more genuinely interactive space… almost like the WebTV devices of the 1990s, except not at all and Netflix actually doesn’t suck. Ha! Remember WebTV?!

  • In other news, The Walking Dead has arguably reached its meme zenith (or nadir, depending on where you stand). via Reddit
  • The crew of Alcatraz saved a woman’s life in the Bay, but surely no one was watching. via EW.com

  • And watch The Finder simply because you like Bones but it’s not on – FOX

Sadly, Fringe won’t be airing at all in March and according to Carissa at TV Fanatic, the producers hadn’t intended to leave things as up in the air as last night’s episode, “The End of All Things”, may have. But why would we expect anything else from a season that has unfolded into some sort of an experiment in what a mind can manifest for itself when left in complete narrative darkness. With an abundance of theories floating throughout the fandom, both probable and improbable, last night’s episode provided, if anything, a flash of light to refocus our eyes. But what did we actually see?

It’s hard to say. For example, we saw two Nina’s. One was clearly in cahoots with David Robert Jones, who is ostensibly the bad guy of this arc (with a crescendo indiscernible in the darkness.) The other Nina is keeping quiet at FBI headquarters. She’s relatively more trustworthy than her counterpart, but that doesn’t amount to much with her history of suspicious actions and secrecy. And despite the assertion by Broyles that she’d be dead if there was a Nina-clone running around, meant to determinedly ease our minds, why would we ever be at ease with any version of Nina Sharpe? The very ground is unstable in this universe and there’s certainly no ceiling to where the series is willing to take us. Clones are always a possibility.

Thematically, these recent episodes speak directly to the concept of identity that the series often plays with. The clones in earlier episodes of the season and alternate versions of our characters throughout established a fairly straightforward statement of who we are not. We are not our appearances or our physical image. Moreover, we are often not even what we look like we are. The freaks of the week have appeared as unthreatening as possible this season, young people and children for the most part with grandiose supernatural ability. The boy with the hivemind from “A Better Human Being” revealed identity to be more fluid and less individual-based than we usually accept; and the young girl with the ability to doodle images of victims of future misfortune pointedly offered a challenge to the truthfulness of the aesthetic image. Not only does a disconnect exist between what we can see and what actually is, there’s a sort of humanist possibility of change and redirection of identity.

So in last night’s episode, Olivia (It’s become increasingly strange to differentiate Olivia’s, especially when referring to one as ours; the implication being that others are less significant or less trenchant to our personal involvement in the show – a misguided implication, I think) fundamentally has an identity crisis. We all have one with her. It’s difficult to identify Olivia when she appears irreparably decentralized – aspects of Olivia exist across alternate timelines, in extension, across multiple worlds. She seems to acknowledge it, accepting it with mostly befuddled glee when Peter’s love acts as a sort of trans-reality bedrock. Not so much when he decides to retreat from the complicated situation. Many of us, as well as Peter, grasp onto the possibility of an easily identifiable Olivia elsewhere, but we don’t see that Olivia. We haven’t in a long time.

Once again, it’s tremendously difficult to make out shapes in the dark that Fringe has left us in all season. But if there was even a glimmer in this episode, in it we saw Olivia. We’ve been seeing her for a while but our minds were simply closed to the possibility, choosing rather to be unsettled by the change in the appearance of things. The revelation that the Observer’s are simply well dressed future folk with voyeuristic tendencies lends itself to this strange idea that we are who we are even when we aren’t. Identification through fate, destiny, what so have you. September’s interference, whether intentionally or not, changes several ‘things’ but never seems to be able to change the underlying identity of Olivia and Peter and the gang, even if their actions have in the past provoked certain questions: i.e. Which Walter is Peter’s real father? Which Olivia is hotter? WTF is going on?

We’re left to ponder for the next month new questions, but hopefully they’re a new sort of question unlike will Peter get back home? will we get our people back? This episode hopefully marks the end of all things like that. I for one enjoy this peculiar feeling of looking for someone or something with all your (tv watching) might and finding it right in front of you, sitting there the whole time, just inexplicably unrecognizable before. But to be honest, I might just be seeing things.

Completely unrelated thought: Peter walking away at the end reminded me so much of Angel (AV Club commenter BenjaminSantiago thought so too). Remember way back in the beginning when they tried to give Peter internal strife? Oh my, how they’ve grown.

Winston is a handsome dude IMHO

Tuesday night’s episode of New Girl, a special Valentine’s Day episode in fact, in some ways felt like finding out your little sister smokes weed – a compelling yet unsurprising discovery that, depending on your lifestyle, may be the most impressive or unsettling thing you learn about someone you pretty much had pegged. Because New Girl, if you’ve been watching, is undoubtedly your little sister. She’s young and precocious and wide-eyed and in constant need of begrudged protection from the meanies and jerks of the world. And she’s not just Zooey Deschanel and her prominently adorable yet archetypal manic pixie dream girl theatrics. New Girl showcases a full-fledged family of funny folk whether we acknowledge it or not – several moving parts and components that, while they may perturb your core principles (Schmidt), can earnestly solicit compassion and charm you into submission (Schmidt again for the most part) the way a good, manipulatively cute little sibling should.

So when we walked in on New Girl this week packing a bowl of sexual liberation and agency, ready to inhale, we were rightfully shocked, forgetting that little girls grow up fast these days and realizing that despite the good intentions, she might not need a big bro as much as we may wish she did. (In fact, even the analogy may be diminishing and sexist, but the series and it’s critics has always seen fit to provoke some third wave social politics.)

Not only had our Girl decided she needed a certain gratification we hadn’t previously ascribed to her, she brazenly went about attaining it. They all did. And in so doing, we see guys growing to respect the women of their sex lives. We witness sincere reflection on career and life alignment without romance simply providing an answer, as is the temptation in a Valentine’s Day themed outing, but rather pleasantly complimenting an adult life. We see the playfully immature games of crushes and teases turn into the more adult sport of flirting, then again becoming plainly adult. We see sex, not really, but a close sitcom facsimile to how it could really occur or humorously not occur amongst young adults who clamor for some autonomy. New Girl, like many shows that share a metaphysical space, is the little sister to a host of older situation comedies highlighting the lives of young adults.

Nick, played by Jake M. Johnson, isn’t Ray Barone or Just Shoot Me’s Elliot or Eddie Crane the sharp as a whip Jack Russell Terrier of Frasier (some pretty solid comedic comparisons.) Nick from New Girl is simply going to be Nick. He’s the intangible quality of our sister that we don’t always appreciate, but when we see him in his attrition of maturity and all his endearingly coupled glory, we’ll realize that he’s as much our sister as nerdy glasses and quirky floral patterns. Surely, we have much to learn about our lil’ sis but it’s nice, if not somewhat jarring, to be reminded of that fact. The series too often leaves us unprepared to truly see it as anything more than an elaborate experiment focused on viewers’ tolerances of aggressively cute yet meek brunettes of the hipster persuasion. This episode got away from that and startled those that wrongly accepted the experiment at face value, questioning, in essence, if Jess should have given some warning or asked for our help if she wanted an uncommitted, no-strings-attached romp? (Yup, there goes that tinge of misogyny, and now it’s a bit incestuous too!)

The novelty of the episode relies simply on giving its main female protagonist a vagina and setting it loose on the world, armed clumsily with desire and innuendo. A variation of this trick was attempted earlier this season, when Jess first intended to make love to her boyfriend at the time, played by Justin Long. But since it’s possible to accept a little sister’s wholly unthreatening boyfriend, albeit reluctantly, without acknowledging her as a woman, we narrowly were able to hold on to our Jess, at the expense of Mr. Long’s contribution to the show. But this week, she sort of became her own Jess. Sort of because nothing actually happened, no vagina was either confirmed or denied. But the possibility was provocative. In a linear, object-oriented economy, the pressing possibility of Jess going from innocuous sibling to sexpot, has to be good television, if not horrible for everything else. But a line is there.

We do something wholly dissimilar to the televised visage of Zooey Deschanel than a majority of our other Hollywood starlets. The sexualization, while still present, isn’t as straightforward. She evokes a richer vocabulary than just “hot”. We locate her somewhere unique on the line we have our women walk on television, often in sexy heals or in smart pantsuits. Nothing actually happening in this episode might be the best way to continue drawing attention to the line, putting pressure on it. Sitcoms have long tired of pushing the envelope, they’ve probably misplaced the thing long ago, but what New Girl does pretty well is surprisingly funny little dances on the line of social discourses. That’s pretty cool of my little sis, huh?

Next week: The Best Black Sitcom in a long time is Winston’s side stories in New Girl