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MTV’s Scream the TV series is a tremendously white affair. This is important to remember considering how this television adaptation of the iconic series of self-aware late-90s slasher films exists at a potentially unique intersection of some notably un-unique genres. Small screen teen drama and big screen horror have unmistakably hooked up before to produce an array of hybrid monstrosities and gems, most notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, more recently, Teen Wolf. But the spirit of this cliche cocktail has been present throughout young people television for some time, from story arcs of One Tree Hill (“Nanny Carrie” anyone?) to pretty much all of Pretty Little Liars. Even as far back as 1996, when the original Scream was released to theaters, the success of the film relied heavily on the appeal of Party of Five darling Neve Campbell. Subsequent films made sure to roll out Teen Choice and MTV Movie Award mainstays, Tori Spelling (in 2) and Scott Foley (in 3) to name a few, to reinforce the intuitive relationship between youthful melodrama and horrific violence, cheerleaders and bloodshed. But while MTV’s new series doubles down on this style of storytelling with a familiar branding that should signal the looks and smarts that make this sort of thing worthwhile, Scream the TV series does a great job of reminding us of how homogenous those looks can be in this space.

Twenty-five years ago Beverly Hills 90210 didn’t wow anyone with its diversity. The stark lack of racial representation was sadly par for course with television of the time and forced a generation of non-white fans to simply suck it up and accept implicit rejection from the fictional upper-class world of the Walshes et al. (With exceptions: Remember that time Brandon set his white privileged eyes on a young Vivica Fox but her family was basically chased out of town before he could find out how Jungle Fever ended? Or when Cress Williams, as D’Shawn of course, threatened to blackmail Brandon but in reality just wanted help with his homework? Or when Brandon . . . wait Brandon Walsh apparently had a thing for Black people.) But the exclusion of significant people of color readily spread from Beverly Hills to Melrose Place to Capeside to the O.C. throughout the 90s and early aughts. Film wasn’t much different and hasn’t been throughout the history of Hollywood but televisions glowed brightly in homes, each and every day, intimately raising a generation of multi-cultured Americans. When One Tree Hill, a show predominately about basketball in its initial outings, unveiled Black characters consistently speaking on consecutive episodes, many rejoiced. Tokenism goes a long way in this space of teenage angst, perhaps because of the monopoly white youngsters have had on televised emotion for so long. 2008’s rebooted 90210 showcased Tristan Wilds as an adopted Black son in the modern analog to the Walshes, as if to explicitly say that it was not 1990 anymore. Couple this with Bianca Lawson’s multi-decade career of being a Black teenage girl with feelings everywhere from Bayside to Sunnydale to Mystic Falls to Rosewood, and you may begin to think that the bare minimum of non-white representation started to mean something to creators. That it started to mean, at least in 2015, television (and film) should look more like its audience.

1997’s Scream 2 was an exceptional film, if only because it was a film about film. It was about how a horror or slasher movie should play out as much as how it actually does play out. Subversion of these established tropes became the point of the film as well as the goal of the characters that wished to survive. Randy Meeks, played by Jamie Kennedy, consistently presses his wry wit and knowledge of the genre against the fourth wall in all sorts of winks to the audience but with a very real desire for self-preservation. That’s overt. What is more subtle but just as significant is how each and every Black person in the film flirts with the same sort of self-awareness. From the very beginning, Jada Pinkett’s discomfort during the viewing of the movie-within-the-movie (or sequel-within-the-sequel “Stab 2”) is simply due to how threatened and unsafe every person of color should feel in these situations. She and her date Omar Epps eventually and predictably die, but Duane Martin says it explicitly later on in the film, “Brothers don’t last long in situations like this,” before he dies as well. The idea here is that these Black characters are tokens, not simply to any liberal sensibility of the time, but of the form of film itself. Staples of the genre. But Jada Pinkett, Omar Epps, and Duane Martin (which admittedly is a pretty impressive list of alums) aren’t left out of the uniquely introspective nature of the Scream franchise. They exhibit a keen understanding of their status as minorities and their eminent danger in this world, but their existence is nonetheless indispensable to it.

Scream the TV series has seen fit to dispense with any semblance of racial inclusion. Albeit, this type of “why ain’t there enough x in this” argument always has its detractors, rightfully so. The show is exploring a queer teen character and admittedly there is in fact a person of color in the group of young actors. Asian American actress Brian Tju. It’s not much of a spoiler in a series centered around mass murder to acknowledge that her role is short-lived, but, after five episodes as of this write up, it’s more than fair to acknowledge this series to still be severely lacking in color, amongst other things. And it’s unsettling, to say the least. The bland characterizations leave a lot to be desired, but the Scream branding implies something purposeful is afoot. We find Randy Meeks’s television counterpart fairly easily in the character of Noah Foster, played well enough by John Karna. But every other character seems to miss the spot in their attempts at pantomiming the usual suspects: horny jocks, the vapid mean girls, the reluctantly popular belle of the ball, the bad boy, etc. The familiar face of Bex Taylor-Klaus, though always welcome, does nothing to repair the missteps of casting and writing.

Nonetheless, its hearty lineage alone would invite an interpretation of the whole series as satire, just as MTV’s commitment to making this show a reality perhaps hints at some parody. Each time the big bad texts the main character Emma, there’s no way any respectable tween of the past decade would not immediately conjure up thoughts of A’s ominously threatening texts to the Pretty Little Liars set. But time and time again the mark is missed for an effective satire of any sort. And it’s been nearly 20 years since the Scream franchise actually had anything left to subvert or add commentary to. The horror beats of the new series don’t hold up at all against what we consider televised horror to be in 2015: not nearly as artful as Hannibal, not as charismatic as American Horror Story, and decapitated heads are so Game of Thrones season one. So why resurrect Ghostface in 2015 (notably without the actual Ghostface, essentially the mascot of the Scream-iverse) as a lackluster reaffirmation of how perpetually threatened white people feel? It may be the network is simply nostalgic for those MTV Movie Awards of the mid-90s, where teenagers looked to the golden popcorn as a representation of their voice and as a reflection of their generation. MTV is, as Bob Weinstein of the Weinstein Co., the notorious studio responsible for the original film series, has recently claimed, “where the teens reside.” It’s unclear if he’s right or if this was ever actually true. But the only thing the existence of Scream the TV series makes clear is that white people are still very afraid. And generally, it’s at the expense of colored faces.

tracee

For a moment, put aside whatever opinion of the series itself you may have taken away from its ABC premiere last Wednesday night. Ignore whatever feelings Anthony Anderson’s generally overwrought and underwhelming acting tends to evoke, or even the sour taste left in your mouth by an accused rapist continually appearing on your television without at least bothering to play a professional sport. Disregard ABC’s track record of simply feigning interest in socially aware comedy and/or representation, while vehemently maintaining the status quo. Instead, consider for a moment the prevalent critical response to the series, Black-ish, whose premiere managed “near perfect lead-in retention out of Modern Family,” according to TV by the Numbers. That is to say, those who watched ABC’s current flagship family sitcom stuck around to check out its colorized version.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Black-ish, as the title suggests, offers ABC’s audience (which the fourth-place network lauds as “upscale” and “affluent”) an overtly non-threatening, semi-Black comedy. Some critics have already drawn a line separating Black-ish from other series with primarily black casts based largely on its presence in a coveted network time slot, but with a heavy implication of presumed white-friendly quality.

In a post-Tyler Perry world, there’s even more of a stigma that comes with having a cast of primarily black actors: However talented the cast is, the writing leaves way too much to be desired; from that point on, no other black show, apparently, has a chance. Black-ish isn’t relegated to OWN, TBS, or BET (or, in a past life, UPN); it’s a sitcom on a broadcast network, just like The Middle or Modern Family. (LaToya Ferguson, AV Club)

The move here is a peculiar one, but has recently been attempted within countless articles and commentaries: simultaneously praise Black-ish and ABC’s push towards diversity in a space that’s been sorely lacking for a significant amount of time (often the key is to invoke The Cosby Show as the gold standard), while wholly diminishing the work done by other creatives and entertainment outlets that cater to audiences of color. Let’s be clear. Tyler Perry isn’t producing pretend television as his creations continue to set ratings records for the OWN Network. Mara Brock Akil isn’t phoning it in with her numerous acclaimed offerings on BET. While admittedly, there’s something not-quite-Cosby about If Loving You is Wrong or Being Mary Jane, there’s an earnestly Black presence on television (and YouTube) that are worth the attention of those seeking diversity. But certainly, that’s not what Black-ish is about.

What ultimately gives Black-ish so much warmth—a warmth reminiscent of, yes, The Cosby Show—is its optimism that audiences, of all colors, will not be turned off by its specificity. . . . Like the many, many sitcoms about the affluent white experience, this is a show that is meant to be seen and enjoyed by everyone. (Willa Paskin, Slate)

Another common element of all the e-ink spilled establishing Black-ish as the Emancipation Proclamation of primetime comedy is the emphasis on how (potentially) fulfilling the series is regardless of race. Again, the language here is coded somewhat to obfuscate its meaning, but the primary concern of audiences when presented with a cast of predominantly non-white faces is apparently that the comedy may not be inclusive enough. That there exist culturally and racially-specific threads of humor is largely undeniable. Still, the fairly obnoxious claim here is that, despite how it might appear, this well-to-do Black family is here for your enjoyment, white America. Presumably, Black-ish satisfies some latent desire for the consumption of Black bodies on television (perhaps the safest arena where this fetish plays out), particularly within the family unit, and apparently there just hasn’t been such a meal suitable for the white palate since, you guessed it, the Huxtables. The “warmth” of Black-ish is plainly its digestibility in the eyes of many.

This interpretation of the series—seemingly in spite of its merit—by the critics and tastemakers of the day has somehow unraveled as more patronizing to Black Americans than the decades of exclusion from network television each writer seems fit to rehash almost robotically. While diversity on television as a talking point is an easy one—there’s not enough, there should be more, it’s a good thing when we see it, etc.—the conversation about race is a more difficult one, several magnitudes more nuanced. Nonetheless, just as it’s hard to be surprised that the alphabet network plans to co-opt the outcry for diversity in a hopeful bid to rise from the ashes of forth place (alongside Black-ish, ABC’s new Fall lineup contains markedly more colorful offerings such as Cristela and Fresh Off the Boat, all receiving a healthy amount of kudos from those who give networks kudos for this sort of thing), it’s expected of the media to retread and provide superficial lip service surrounding the issue.

Over and over, representation is explored insincerely and although some appreciation is always warranted when the network landscape is remodeled however slightly towards inclusion, many detailed accounts of the significance of Black-ish read as overly self-gratifying. Thank you noble critics for sitting through a Black(-ish) endeavor and reminiscing gleefully on the times when Heathcliff fathered Theo into something you could deem respectable with classic gags and approachable laughs. Your white-knighting is duly noted. But if what passes for TV journalism today refuses to ask the more pertinent questions about racial representation in media, the whys and hows, it’s clear that they’re as culpable as anyone for the dearth of people of color of prominence on network television and Black-ish inevitably getting canceled. Anthony Anderson’s on it after all. I’m not hopeful. But please take some time to enjoy Tracee Ellis Ross in all her splendor.

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.

ray

“The show Entourage—its cartoony characters, its gluttonous spectacle, its frat bro brand of storytelling—didn’t take itself seriously enough, wasn’t solemn enough; it didn’t hit us over the head with how cynical and superficial and sleazy and wicked Hollywood could be, you know?” said not one person ever. But Ray Donovan, a new drama from Showtime following a fixer for the stars offers viewers a familiar landscape only to obfuscate it with broad strokes of grey. Waking up besides a corpse and epileptic blow jobs are shades of grey, right? Surely, surprise Black brothers have to be. And just like that, Showtime rolls out a muted, darker version of tinsel town. From quite early in the first episode, Ray Donovan, as a series, thoroughly establishes the texture we’ve come to expect from these premium serial experiences, almost to a fault. But Ray Donovan, as a man, played heroically by Liev Schreiber, is a compelling centerpiece to something that could just as easily be a convoluted mess of Hollywood navel gazing.

Luckily, Liev and company find ways to convince us all to stare into the belly of the beast, past the standard L.A. fare, into the violently dysfunctional, Boston-bred Donovan clan. Moments of Schreiber with a bloodied bat or Jon Voigt as the goonish Papa Donovan bridge the gap between what’s expected from two marketable names and potentially remarkable, transcendent performances. Schreiber’s dialogue is purposefully sparse in the premiere episode, he floats through this world as it gradually builds around him, but when he does speak, it’s curt and honest. He’s as jaded as you’d expect the West Coast Olivia Pope to be, but his values like his accent like his ostensibly dirty rags to filthy riches origin story anchor him to another world. But what this introduction teaches us about Donovan is that he likes it here, despite this scowls and incompetent clientele. Whether it’s the wealth or his family or his status there’s something Ray is going to fight to keep, just as he undoubtedly fought to achieve it. Still something, someone will eventually challenge it all.

Donovan warns of his father’s impending arrival throughout much of the first half of the episode: “You let him near this family, everything we worked for, everything we built, it’ll be over.” As with all successful men and emotionally broken women in television (two standards for the price of one!), daddy issues abound. Voigt’s ability to maneuver the cliché into a viable antagonist remains to be seen. But it’s clear that he’s seething with resentment towards his big shot son and has the means and skill set to make some interesting things happen going forward. This along with the welcome home eight-ball he snorts with the addict son and the boxer son he fathered with a woman that wasn’t Diahann Carroll (but a man can dream, can he?), either shoots him up the shortlist for father of the year or drives home the point that this is a family show. A show about men—fathers and sons and brothers—and what it truly means to be one.

So maybe the Entourage comparison was a bit short-sighted. Maybe this is more like Californication—aiming to be more mature, smarter, realer than its locale. Or The Sopranos—Ray and his wife are fairly Tony and Carmela-esque with the duplicitous East Coast past to boot. Either way, it’s difficult to call Ray Donovan anything exceptionally refreshing or new. It’s a safe and familiar, but there’s definitely a lot of room here to do something familiar exceptionally well.

Note: Julian from One Tree Hill guest stars in the premiere. Acting and stuff. Yeah. For real.

Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra has been able to live up to the high expectations of children and adults alike with its reimagining of the world we fell in love with back when young Aang was the Avatar and the last airbender standing. The series transports us to a similar world that’s advanced nearly a century into the future, appearing aesthetically alike our world a century ago, at the onset of the industrial revolution in Shanghai or Manhattan. This forward-looking feat gives the new installment its own intrigue and outright coolness — elemental manipulation, martial arts, technology, and metropolitan surroundings coexisting makes for undeniably good animated television.

But the connection that the series tightly grips onto, to the continuity of Avatar: The Last Airbender and its well-deserved place in the hearts of many adoring fans, is what ensures that the new series, barely 4 episodes old, will not disappoint those seeking interesting and compassionate storytelling, playful humor, and fire and water and air and earth swirling about and blowing up and stuff. This is a kids show, after all. A good one but still. The bar may not be set very high to have younger fans to return to a franchise they’ve already been inoculated to love by ads, toys, and the interwebz.

It would seem that us kids (genuine youngsters and those of us who are still kids at heart despite the college loan repayments) have an eerily unmatched loyalty to legacies, even those that predate us. We flock to something like Transformers Animated, recently resurrected on Cartoon Network, for example, like clockwork, as if there was anything qualitatively good in any incarnation of the toy-based franchise since ’96 (a cheap shot but c’mon, Beast Wars FTW.) Marketers and toymakers exploit this brand loyalty every time they recycle and revamp a franchise. Fundamentally, if you re-animate it, they will come, even if they were too young or too fetus-y when it happened the first or even second time around. There was little doubt that The Legend of Korra would be some fraction of the hit that <The Last Airbender was. (And if it wasn’t we’d blame the film and M. Night Shyamalan. I’m from the internet and it’s my right.)

The fact that the series has carefully attempted to balance the established Avatar legacy with potentially potent new themes of social upheaval, class warfare, and anti-establishment sentiments reveals what some of us may have grown too cynical to want to believe as adults. There’s a magic in the familiar. This is not to say that we can ever go back. We can’t. Never. But there’s an interesting thing that occurs when something from our past jumps into our present. The juxtaposition of the times is unavoidable. Impending and catastrophic war between nations in 2005 becomes activism, protest, and revolution in 2012, whether it’s overt or not. The vehicles, when crafted as adeptly as the Avatar series, that delivered insight or perspective or excitement before will perennially deliver, relative to where we stand. In this most recent episode we get a glimpse of our friends Aang, Sokka, and Toph a bit older than we would remember, in a vision Korra had after, despite flame-kicking like crazy, being ambushed by chi-blocking ninjas and their anarchist leader. There’s awesome to be had in the interconnectedness of the past and the present. Smart kids know that. And their loyalty to the past is always uniquely forward facing because they usually have no other way to look at it.

The familiarity, even if it’s not their own (do you really remember how Sokka looks?), seems to be enough; and they may be right. The Legend of Korra certainly has the ability to stand on its own, separate from the Avatar franchise, as a quality show. The animation has already surpassed its predecessor (or maybe my TV wasn’t as good five years ago.) But what it provides for us as a continuation of a story that has already delivered on so many levels is richer and better taps into our rich pop cultural continuity. Whenever we see the statue of Avatar Aang in select shots of Republic City the notion that we’re all connected via electrified boxes in our homes, memories, belly laughs, peculiar vocabularies, and money we mutually and foolishly wasted is reinforced.

It’s a lofty claim, but think about it. If My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic had not the familiarity of Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, bronies would lose their anchor to the culture we share with them. We would all be at a lost.

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.

Yup. There’s an intentional pun in that title. And it refers dutifully to Wednesday nights of yore, way back in 2004 when committed sci-fi fanatics and casual remote control wielding Americans alike were first introduced to the ABC ratings goliath choreographed by J.J. Abrams and company, set on some island somewhere. It follows then that déjà vu abounds when J.J. Abrams stamps his name on a new series for FOX focused on another island that may be more infamous than the one where viewers first fell in love the Oceanic Flight 815 survivors, if in name alone. In its two-hour series premiere, Alcatraz makes it abundantly clear that it aims to aggressively court the viewers with a keen eye for nerd-bait as well as the regular chums with expendable incomes and Nielsen boxes – the bread and butter of the once resplendent Lost fandom.

Jorge Garcia fundamentally reprises perhaps the most iconically uncontroversial character in recent television history without even bothering to get a haircut. New Hurley does and says old Hurley things as he obsesses over this new old island and explores this new 50 year-old mystery (about supposedly old inmates turned new.) He’s a bit taken aback by the possibility of supernatural time-traveling crooks, but only a bit because he’s the protector of the Island now, or that’s what we’re meant to infer. On occasion you may even catch him mid-soliloquy, discussing how familiar he is with the Island and some but not all of its secrets.
There’s certainly other Lost easter eggs here and there but just like its titlecard font, Alcatraz is reminiscent of but clearly not Lost. In fact, Alcatraz is J.J. Abrams’ new sci-fi police procedural hybrid darling on FOX. A series for those in need of a serving of smart, intuitive, young blonde detective with a problematic history that she somehow uses to fuel an ambition to solve unconventional cases. Maybe she’s an FBI agent. Maybe her partner’s dead. Maybe give her a specialist/consultant/expert as a partner in his stead. She uses unorthodox methodologies anyway and kicks enough ass for the both of them. Right?

When Fringe first premiered on FOX in the fall of 2008, during the fourth season of Lost, Lance Reddick seemed to carry intrigue and enigma from one universe to another – along with strong acting chops exercised on the Wire. Fringe enjoys a bit of the Lost-but-not treatment as well, subtly for the most part (an Oceanic boarding pass here or there), but has developed into something wholly independent with some of the most ambitious and original storytelling on television today, in its fourth season. But alas, the numbers, as they’re wont to do, fall short in supporting this fact. In fact, besides ratings, Fringe is getting increasingly more expensive to produce as time progresses, an unattractive position to be in.

Then comes Alcatraz. Plainly put, Alcatraz is Fringe with less. Less cost. Less plot. Less science. Rebecca Madsen (played by Sarah Jones), the lead detective closely following the supernatural events surrounding Alcatraz island, even has significantly less blonde hair than Olivia Dunham (played by Anna Torv), the lead FBI agent of the Fringe division. There’s a leanness to Alcatraz that positions it in opposition to Fringe, even while on the same network. Fringe has been on cancellation watch since nearly its onset because of attributes that simultaneously limit its viewership yet contribute to its remarkably consistent quality – almost everyone now plays two characters in two parallel universes just for kicks. And sadly, the old tricks to save both worlds, like Warner Bros finding lucrative licensing deals, may not work this time around.

In a very real way, Alcatraz represents a faith worst than death for Fringe and its loyal fanbase: the knowledge that in an alternate universe where Fringe wasn’t as creative and Anna Torv’s hair wasn’t as long and Joshua Jackson wasn’t as fit, things might be different. It’s important to know this if Fringe doesn’t make it and the Others on the island somehow thrive. Alcatraz is a series with promise that may or may not meet expectations, but Fringe is undeniably in the company of Alias and Lost when it comes to Abrams productions that contributed greatly to sci-fi action dramas on primetime.

So when asked what they died for (the Lost pun game isn’t easy), be sure to tell them that. The End.

P.S. Did you know J.J. Abrams created Felicity? And in other news that you don’t necessarily want or need, here’s a map of Fringe ratings throughout the US courtesy of tvbythenumbers. That is all