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Olivia Pope

  • Everyone. Is. Going. Nuts. Over. Game of Thrones.
  • Potential Once Upon a Time spinoff, Once: Wonderland, has cast its Alice, English-born Aussie Sophie Lowe. Lewis Carroll is unamused. (via Hollywood Reporter)
  • The Killing is apparently still happening. AMC has promised a two-hour premiere on June 2nd for all those who haven’t yet figured out that Maggie Simpson shot Rosie Larsen. Duh. (via Vulture)
  • Justified received its well-deserved fifth season renewal along with the news of FX’s new sister network, FXX, a comedy-centered outfit launching in September, buoyed by new seasons of It’s Always Sunny and The League. Reportedly, FXXX is still in the works, featuring a 24-hour stream of Keri Russell sex scenes in a variety of hairstyles. (via Warming Glow)
  • Doctor Who summed up pretty well in visualizations and spreadsheets and visualizations from The Guardian. Plus news of returning favorites David Tennant and Bill Piper for the 50th Anniversary special. But, really? Spreadsheets? (via TVbytheNumbers)
  • And who is the greatest TV couple of all time? Aside from me and Claire Huxtable Olivia Pope. (via Entertainment Weekly)

It’s become apparent that HBO very much wants to be in the young people business. After the gradual decay of its former golden child (in all the demos that matter), Entourage, and the almost immediate disillusionment with How to Make It in America, the unabashed doppleganger featuring NY grit instead of LA sheen and fashion instead of Hollywood, HBO has decided that maybe the Y chromosomes were to blame in their relentless pursuit of a youthful aesthetic. They’ve now seen it fit to give Girls a shot, purposefully remain in the New York state of mind, and let creator Lena Dunham run wild in a world of privileged 20-somethings caught somewhere between college and adulthood, between full parental support and almost inevitable support groups for social dysfunction.

On the surface, what Girls does differently than many of its predecessors is thoughtfully explore clichés of the real world (which for a long time TV has purported to be based on despite little to no evidence, just largely misleading titles like The Real World) more subtly, critically, and for the humor therein. Where How to Make it may have been painfully self indulgent in it’s depiction and idolization of the overexposed subcultures of big city America, Girls shuns the h-word of the times and subverts the underlying lifestyles and attitudes that make putting a camera on young folk a perennially attractive idea no matter the decade, the trope, or the pigeonhole.

The familiar cards are quickly laid on the table—worthless English degrees and crummy internships and dickish boyfriends and money from your parents and aimless adolescent anxieties. But don’t worry. Lena Dunham and the series itself is in on the joke, so we all get to laugh.

Girls features young women playing into tropes and archetypes for the desired comedic effect, but supposedly still depicting young women earnestly. So just as viewers may feel that they can relate to or understand the characters—an aspiring writer, a restless girlfriend, an over-the-top bohemian, a girl that’s fairly indistinguishable from the rest (I really can’t remember who she is but Wikipedia says there are four ::shrug::)—the portrayal of women in this series should provide both fans and critics alike with some pause in regards to gender. The girls of the show don’t function as an overtly strong statement on femininity in our culture. It’s not quite Carrie Bradshaw in the late-90s, challenging our preconceptions of what women should or should not do on television. It’s not a TV version of the 1939 classic film The Women, which brought women to the forefront of storytelling by removing literally all males from before the camera (why pretend? I only saw the 2008 remake with Meg Ryan and Annette Benning, but the point stands.) These Girls aren’t even The Powerpuff Girls, failing to ever showcase the figurative or literal feminine super-strength that tears down our prejudices and even hints at girls plainly being cooler than stupid ole boys.

But the series doesn’t have to be any of that. We shouldn’t still need it to. But as clever as the show positions itself to be, it doesn’t seem to actually offer anything particularly clever, if anything at all. The reality of it all is that spoiled white girls running around Greenpoint, Brooklyn dazed and confused and armed with both snark and liberal arts degrees is fine, but understandably unfulfilling for a broad audience. That audience may not appreciate, as Gawker’s John Cook puts it, “a television program about the children of wealthy famous people and shitty music and Facebook and how hard it is to know who you are and Thought Catalog and sexually transmitted diseases and the exhaustion of ceaselessly dramatizing your own life while posing as someone who understands the fundamental emptiness and narcissism of that very self-dramatization.” But that’s apparently not Girls concern. Those that wish to indulged in the possibly post-“hipster” or “meta-feminist” revisionist view of adulthood in the “real” world (these quotations connote things, I promise) or simply listen to some Feist and await for boobs and shout outs to your local PBR dispensary, boy do I gotta show for you!

In other news:

  • Best Friends Forever was pulled off NBC’s schedule as an overdue act of fairness to die-hard Perfect Couples fans. via Vulture
  • Fringe got renewed for a fifth and final season. Prediction: Astrid and Walter have been having sex all along. via TVbytheNumbers
  • 30 Rock, Community, and Parks and Recreation on Thursday reminded us what television can do to your funny bone, and a second dose of Donald Glover ain’t too shabby either. Coccyx via Grantland
  • New HBO comedy Veep is much better than Girls but Brian William’s daughter is hotter than Elaine Benes, so I picked the Brooklyn yawn to write about instead of the funny Murphy BrownWest Wing love child. I’m ashamed.

According to an HBO press release (via TVbytheNumbers), the network has “decided to cease all future production” of the series LUCK, the critically lauded horse racing drama acting as a proxy OTB for the rest of us. Apparently too many horses were dying, yet, it was still a “difficult decision” to make, met “with heartbreak” according to HBO reps. This is a strange predicament for a series to find itself, a series with so much promise and talent and Hoffman. LUCK had already been promised a second return season, as is customary with anything on HBO even slightly notable. The plan is usually to allow the audience to come to them in the second season, after the critical buzz, season one DVD sales, and Netflix queues. The possibility of buzz for LUCK being positive turned fairly slim with the injury and eventual euthanization of a third horse on set and Peta‘s persistent campaign against the network.

Earlier reports suggested simply a suspension of pony play during the early stages of production of season two, but HBO pulled the plug on Wednesday. Many will speculate on the moral merits of the decision, but the capitalistic merits are clear. Bad publicity is to be avoided like the plague when the game is money making by way of Emmy chasing.

In other, unrelated news:

Jill Hennessey

Luck, a new HBO horse-betting drama created by David Milch of NYPD Blue fame, is, in a way, representative of the new look and feel of high-end television drama in the wake of shows like the Sopranos and the Wire. There’s a visibly top shelf Hollywood sheen to the cinematography, direction and recognizable faces emblazoned on the future DVD box sets. And beneath the Dustin Hoffman feature credit, often lies a murky, almost misanthropic depiction of America past or present or alternative zombie-riddled present. In ten episodes or so, less than half the amount of more conventional procedurals like House o CSI, this new breed of drama makes use of variable plot pacing to tell their story over the course of a shorter time, more akin to what television used to know as a mini-series, more like a film.

Two Hollywood films in particular, Big Trouble in Little China in 1986 and Ocean’s Eleven (the 1960 original or any instance of the 2001 remake franchise would do), relates to Luck intimately, in non-obvious ways. Big Trouble in Little China, starring a young Kurt Russell and an even younger-looking Kim Cattrall, also showcased Dennis Dun, one of Luck’s many recognizable if unnameable faces, in his most noteworthy role as Russell’s Chinese sidekick. The deeper relation to Luck reveals itself in the similar ways Dun and race in general are used to provide credence to the depiction of a dark realism – dark with oriental mysticism in the film, dark with disrepute and sleaze in Luck.

Whereas the rest of the television landscape struggles to find a use for race in their worlds, Luck and other neo-dramas employ a sort of racial pragmatism for the purposes of providing grit and authenticity. Dun portrays Leo Chan, a crass card playing business owner with a stereotypically thick Asian accent. Elsewhere in the storyline, we are exposed to the Latino cadence of Escalante, a respected and charismatic horse trainer played convincingly by John Ortiz. Luck, more than other shows in recent years, implores the viewer to work a little harder on parsing dialogue and story progression (will we really have to learn to differentiate horses?), Escalante and Chan perform exactly this function, while providing necessary color to an otherwise all-white canvas. Like Big Trouble in Little China typifies the Hollywood moment in the 1980s where it was discovered that color added invaluable texture and credibility to familiar narratives – adventure in Chinatown or a Black detective in Beverly Hills; Luck represents a similar “enlightenment” on the small screen.

Luck luckily has the benefit of contemporary Hollywood’s callousness to issues of race; standing in contrast to pre-1980s Hollywood’s general insensitivity to those same issues. Racial themes today are usually communicated within predetermined archetypes and cliches; otherwise, race is largely a functional tool wielded when necessary by film and television.

Perhaps more directly, the basic premise of Ocean’s Eleven, an all-star roster of parts all with specific contributions to the team’s success, is related not only in Luck’s apparent plot (degenerate and decrepit gamblers are fundamentally the same as dapper and handsome criminal minds) but in the show’s very inception. Nick Nolte is certainly the muscle of the show. He flexes his chops and the audience reveres as if trained. Dennis Farina provides the brains; not the intellect, but the mind of the series. He asks questions for us and holds our hands while we explore an unfamiliar world of jockeys and ponies. Richard Kind provides comic relief in the most entertainingly dirtbag-like way he can muster. And if seeing Jill Hennessy return to television doesn’t do something comparable to watching Julia Roberts in film, as in make your heart flutter, there’s something wrong with you, not Luck.

Throw in Dustin Hoffman, Michael Mann, and David Milch to fill out the executive portion of the IMDB page and you have a rat pack. Throw in an obscure niche subculture, the aforementioned funny talking ethnics, and keep the stakes high enough to maintain the suspense every week and you have an all-star roster, every part functioning in this new drama machine. The suspense is very much the glue guy of the team. It convinces us that Dustin Hoffman’s character is somehow as interesting as the always impending horse race. Suspense keeps all the moving parts as well the viewers hooked to the machine like a drunk with a pension at an OTB. Luck is like that. It undoubtedly takes something away from you as you watch, whether that is simply time, patience, or willingness to watch horses die. But that’s the gamble and the fun. These first highly entertaining episodes, however, give us hope that there’s winnings to be had (at least by white people.)

…and that may not be such a bad thing for fans.

The premise of a blue collar white man driven to prostitution by the recession, perhaps not surprisingly to most, doesn’t seem to write itself like it used to in 2009 when Hung first premiered. Without speculating too much on how or when the shark was jumped by Ray Drecker (played by Thomas Jane) and his sizable penis, it has long been common wisdom that the show wasn’t ‘as good as it’s first season,’ the season with all the hype and promise and emphatic conversations with friends about what they’re missing out on. The season before dick jokes became stale. The season when a teacher as a whore sounded as fresh and entertaining as a housewife as a drug dealer, except not really.

First season hype has doomed each one of these failed HBO experiments. Bored to Death received rave reviews from the sort of critics and friends alike that make a series more unapproachable than attractive. The merit of Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis going on detective adventures throughout New York City is undeniable. The praise the show received early in its run seems to assume that there were actually people who would attempt to deny it; as if there were those that enjoyed these three guys’ style of comedy, were liberally educated, NPR listeners with Rushmore on their Netflix queues, but for some reason were on the fence about Bored to Death. The series simply wasn’t built to manufacture new viewers – the American education system and cultural polarization wouldn’t allow it. But if not for the unwieldy hype, the series may have been able to keep its unique sort of ratings points.

How to Make it in America relied on a younger more easily herded demo to thrive on the network. The buzz around this show often contained the words “new Entourage.” But that was more of a design goal than an accurate assessment. Then there was the “hipster” claim, and it became clear that the show was chasing ghosts, and would forever be too many steps behind its own constructed visage. (HBO decided it’d take more than a year to air the second season of a show reimagining the  young people’s New York of last decade.)

The reason the cancellation of these shows may prove to be beneficial for their fans is simple: They get to keep the hype. Cancellation in 2012 isn’t cancellation as we’ve known in the past. These shows aren’t actually going anywhere. Three seasons of both Bored to Death and Hung and two seasons of How to Make it in America, can still provide their respective fans with a fluid and cohesive encapsulation of what they enjoyed (or thought they enjoyed), without any significant adjustments or alterations that often make a long-running show seem unfamiliar towards the end. Each show can even be scrutinized with the questions of what could’ve and should’ve been, never yielding the answers that would undoubtedly ruin the magic. Everyone now gets to digest the shows at their own pace, without ratings based-hype, but rather gravitating towards the shows that are consistent with their character. (Maybe put Bored to Death on your cue behind Twin Peaks. Maybe find a Hung torrent one bored summer.) Television is yours to keep now. So when a show with just one joke, merely the allure of familiar faces, simply a momentarily trendy look to flaunt, gets the axe, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. And you still get to hold on tightly to them.