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Hannibal at its core is a visual feast. With a color pallet like that of a depressed Scandanavian lumberjack with a design degree, the series exercises your plasma and liquid-crystals just as it does your capacity for gore and icky stuff. The season finale this past week begins with Will finding a severed ear in his sink beneath his morning vomit. After weeks of dealing with feverish hallucinations and other treats of untreated encephalitis, it’s unclear really if this is even a strange start to the day. Will handles it, as he’s handled any bump in the road to this point, with a phone call to his pal, confidante, and therapist Dr. Lecter. It’s a curious testimony to how Will perceives his relationships with the other characters of the series. Surely, it makes sense to trust your therapist, and if that therapist so happens to be your friend, so then is the trust doubled—tripled if you share some murderous secret, as is the case with Will, Hannibal (and Abigail).

So blatantly an unhealthy relationship and violation of professional boundaries, the comfort Will draws from Hannibal represents possibly Will’s infatuation with the surface of it all, the way things look. He seems to actively accept his role as the unstable intellectual to the detriment of his physical well-being and the safety of those around him because that’s how the offer Jack places on the table and the image of him that’s attractive to everyone from Jack to Alana Bloom. If Will’s brain was simply inflamed and his methodologies were plainly crazy, Hannibal might as well start serving french fries and holding sessions on a futon in an office building. It’s serendipitous for Will to find someone—an intellectual like himself, meticulously concerned with appearance and artifice—to reinforce the image of Will Graham, the dynamic of series itself.

This is Hannibal. A beautifully designed, smart procession of images. If it were a murder mystery, the logic may fall apart somewhere before Abigail Hobbs is merely given incredulous jeers and snarky looks by the FBI for her involvement in her father’s murder spree and her own body count. If it were a police procedural, Jack Crawford would probably need a better reason to keep an notoriously unstable professor out in the field, armed and fugue-ing all over the place, than his so-called success rate in subduing the show’s rogue gallery of cooky serial killers, which in 13 episodes amounts to more of a fortunate string of outliving them. If Hannibal were any less beautiful, it would become too unabashedly clear that things are not as they may seem. There are no gargantuan moose (“meese” if you’re nasty) haunting Will. Gastronomical proficiency doesn’t equate to quality meat. And intelligence does’t mean psychopathy, no matter how much we’re told psychopathy means intelligence.

Will put his faith in the visage of a thoughtful psychoanalyst with a stylistic flare and a perpetual extra plate, and inadvertently, his fate in the hands of a psychopath. For some reason, with all his intellect, it occurs to Will that Jack may be the copy cat killer their team has been pursuing, before putting the puzzle pieces together and finding an unbelievably stunning portrait of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Behind bars, wearing a dull orange jumpsuit, Will Graham has finally seen past his elaborately grotesque hallucinations and what he finds is plainly ugly—a set up, betrayal, lost friends, disappointment. The framework remains ornate but the picture, after a gradual, satisfying buildup, has revealed itself to be simply sublime, leaving us all wondering: how will next season look?

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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.)

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:

Maybe sometime in the future, we’ll append important dates in television history with tags such as AL and BL, after anno-Lost and before-Lost, respectively. Like, ‘new drama Awake appeared on NBC this past Thursday, March 2012 AL…’ This isn’t to say much about the quality and innovation of Lost as a series (because really, what did Lost do that Twin Peaks didn’t do more than a decade prior?), but more observably, Lost convinced many a TV writer that it was possible to go high concept on broadcast television – get weird with storytelling, expand arcs beyond an hour, manage pacing more organically, and still deliver Nielsen-wise. Admittedly, at the same time this sort of artistic experimentation was already happening in spades on the premium channels.

The most riveting, critic-baiting dramas of recent years have arguably all sprung forth from a gated premium-cable community that, prior Netflix and its ilk and the digital revolution, compelled several to call upon their shady friend with the ‘fixed’ cable boxes in his trunk to keep up with the ongoings of gangsters in Jersey or drug dealers in Baltimore. From then ’til now, with very few exceptions and the arrival of de facto freemiums such as AMC, the common wisdom has it that higher quality of drama is implicit when you opt for the higher cable bill; more cerebral or risky television can be found in these select places, if you buy into the hype (which the large number of subscribers proves beyond doubt.) There’s some heavily acclaimed shows being pumped out these days with unconventional premises and surprising development (Breaking Bad; Weeds, in its prime; ) on networks that, for a while now, have built their brands firmly upon acclaim. However, the viewership, the numbers, the advertising revenue, often fail to hold a candle to even an NCIS: Topeka on the big broadcast networks.

There’s an apparent divide.

Explicating on it brings up philosophical questions about the function of television itself in this country (Is it just for fun? Is it art? Is it just the pace between commercials? Can it really function as all three?); and sometimes polarizes viewers. In AL times, a time when the divide is most apparent mostly because of the novelty of a show having crossed it, television shows sometimes seem to be abhorred almost as much for being bad as they are for their overzealous fan-bases that cite the divide for their poor performance. “If Community struggles because it is ‘too smart for people to get’ and would ‘do great on IFC’ or blah blah blah, then… fuck you” is pretty much the sentiment on several blogs and forums (not that I would know. I’m too cool for that sort of stuff. heheheh)1 TV preferences and opinions have always been various but recently it’s become clear, the various have no need or willingness to even co-exist. The very fact that no reality-TV discussion will ever be showcased on this blog reflects my similarly pretentious allocation of worth to some things on television while completely ignoring others, in spite of and perhaps because of the prominent narratives about those unscripted shows.

My point is that we may not fully understand the divide well enough to effectively map out the television landscape without hurt feelings, but its presence is certainly being felt, especially when a show like Awake seems to challenge some of its paradigms.

Awake, on the surface, is a fairly standard police procedural. The creator, Kyle Killen, is known for also creating Lone Star, which aired briefly on FOX in 2010 (Doesn’t sound familiar? Blame the divide, I guess.) Wilmer Valderrama, in a redemption role after offending so many mamas, plays a rookie, sidekick to the main protagonist. Steve Harris plays a more seasoned, more Black sidekick to the main protagonist. The psychiatrist from SVU is playing one of the protagonist’s psychiatrists. So the cast is as loaded as it need be.2 The show gets weird when you realize that protagonist, detective Britten, as you might have surmised, is living a sort of double life. And not the I have a fiance in Topeka and a wife in Tulsa sort. The my wife is dead and I’m a single father when the lens filter is cool, and I’m mourning my dead son with my very alive wife whenever the color palette turns warm sort of double life!3 That’s cool. The critics love the series. More importantly, they love to talk about it. They have since last June.

But what is really impressive, at least in regards to what has been discussed here, is that in essence this series is plainly two police procedurals. The innovation to the broadcast TV formula is effectively and inexplicably just multiplying the standard police procedural formula by two, and doing it exceptionally well. Awake is a damn good procedural too. It watches like BBC’s Luther in tone and earnestness, like the good parts of AMC’s The Killing. But it has this structure that’s so weird, it challenges our relationship with cop shows en masse. Two big cases, not just one, will probably be solved each week. Satisfying? Should be. But there’s a big overarching mystery, that will be mulled over at the pace of a psychiatrist helping you address your persistent maternal sex dreams. It might seem like a series of hours but much more is going on under the covers.

I’m excited about this series. Not confident in its success in the days AL. But excited nonetheless.


1 I’m not in fact cool.
2 Also on the show: a Death Eater and the kid who played Jack Shephard’s son in the sideways universe
3 Sincere exclaims!!! Yea, I’m not cool.

Following the moderate success of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, the Mickey Mouse network has just given the order for a new Beauty and the Beast themed pilot, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The move marks the second possible Beauty and the Beast reimagining this pilot season, the first having been ordered by the CW Network. This may prove to be the Grimm vs. Once Upon a Time – identical premises that sound much better on (Fables’ comic book) paper than on Friday or Sunday night television, respectively – showdown of the next season. Are the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen the elite show creators that networks would have us believe? To be fair, their being dead is probably a very attractive quality when contract negotiations come around.

In somewhat related news, Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy (amazingly while still being alive), is aiming for her fourth creator credit this spring with new series Scandal also on ABC and starring Kerry Washington. The message here being that Grey’s Anatomy in essence is performing so well, ABC has chosen to give the show’s creator a heftier chunk of their airtime, for lack of anything better to do with it. (Little Bo Peep biopic, perhaps?) Sometime in the future, Summer Glau, the accursed one to many, is even scheduled to make an appearance on Grey’s. Yes. We get it. The guys over there feel very secure. Geez. They’re just rubbing it in now.

Security in the scripted television jungle is a rare thing these days but does occur now and then, and you know it when you see it. Giving someone behind one hit series a new series to stamp their name on is like giving out luxury cars they can flaunt or, just as easily, crash into a tree for fun. Shonda Rhimes seems to have more experience with the latter; Off the Map cancelled and Private Practice seeming to underwhelm on purpose. (She should probably learn to drive/write soon.) Bones guy Hart Hanson is also getting the treatment this season over on FOX with The Finder holding steady with recycled jokes originally written for David Boreanaz and the older Deschanel.

Interestingly, this level of safety and comfort seems to lead to a “Fuck it” attitude, the sort that more commonly comes out of desperation, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in television.

Seinfeld, an example from the history books, displayed some “Fuck it”-ness on more than one occasion throughout its run. Initially people just hated the show, reasons ranging from the show being “too Jewish” to it being “too New York.” Only four episodes of the first season were ordered after the pilot by an optimistic (it was 1990) NBC exec. Those episodes, made with a supposed expiration date, are critically lauded these days and the second time the pilot aired ratings doubled to guarantee a followup season.

Later on, Larry David and Jerry arguably said Fuck it again when things were going too well. Larry stepped down as showrunner and Jerry decided to pick up the pace of the show, cut out the standup segments and drive towards the absurd(ly funny) – remember the one with bizarro Jerry or the backwards episode? Fuck it right?

So its possible that genius can be found in both comfort and unease. Perhaps the new Beauty and the Beast (on twice?) holds some surprises after all. Probably not. But if Summer Glau is getting work as a hail mary or an act of total indifference, then so be it. We can all use a bit more Summer. Curse Smurse.

Yup, this blog has an affinity for the beautiful people. Didn’t think you would mind.