I think it’s safe to say that the past decade’s obsession with reality TV and CSI-clones is fading, though we’re getting a preponderance of “Lost” clones now. For quite some time, first run cable has been offering far more interesting fare as a whole than the networks. This season, six new dramas premiered on broadcast networks that had me intrigued coming in based upon the descriptions and advertisements: _Elementary_ and _Vegas_ on CBS; _Nashville_ and _Last Resort_ on ABC; _Beauty and the Beast_ and _Arrow_ on the CW.
I already posted a long review of the pilot of _Beauty and the Beast_ and how disappointed I was in it, and a brief positive review of _Arrow_ at the ending, noting that _Arrow_ seemed to have some elements more reminiscent of the old _Beauty and the Beast_ than the alleged remake (for example, crimes that weren’t always murders, the old “crusading for the helpless” motif of lots of 80s shows, etc.)
So, to the reviews of the other five, and why _Arrow_ is my favorite new show. I’ll probably think of one or two more later, but in the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve really only felt compelled by a handful of non-cable dramas. I watched _Heroes_ on Netflix after it had already been cancelled, so that doesn’t really count. Only _House_, _Bones_ and _Person of Interest_ have really been shows that I’ve consistently been eager to see the next episode (among dramas; as comedies go, _The Office_ and _30 Rock_, and I recently discovered _Up All Night_).
5) _Last Resort_ is really my last resort of the season. Andre Braugher, one of my favorite actors, who impressed me with his brief recurring role on _House_ but disappointed me on _Men of a Certain Age_, plays a submarine captain reminiscent in some respects of Jean-Luc Picard–at least the Picard of _First Contact_. The premise of the show is intriguing, but it suffers literally from the “Gilligan’s Island” problem. It’s a bunch of people stuck on an island. I find that basic premise kind of tedious. The conspiracy theme catches my attention, and some of the characters are very interesting. One of my major problems with this show, which is going to pop up again in a second, is that a lot of the male characters, at least, tend to look alike. I realize this is partly because they’re supposed to be sailors with crew cuts, and they’re wearing uniforms, but I get confused about who’s who.
4) _Nashville_: I saw potential in this, and it’s kind of grown on me. However, my initial reaction was even more than what I said about _Last Resort_: everyone looked alike. It took me about 3 episodes to figure out who was who, when the show features 4 blonde actress, and a number of rugged, brown-haired men with stubble. I constantly complain about how television these days lacks the “diversity” of TV in the old days. Ironically, when there’s a lot more ethnic diversity on TV, all the white people look alike, and everyone always seems to be the same age. However, now that I understand who’s who, the similar-looking characters kind of play on the show’s themes. In this case, we have a cross between soap opera and musical (apparently playing on Fox’s _Glee_ and NBC’s _Smash_). It follows three female singers at different stages of their careers, all tied to one guitarist, Deacon Clayborne. Rayna Jaymes is a 1990s star trying to cope with being in the later stage of fame (a recurring topic is her producer pressuring her to put out a greatest hits compilation, which she thinks will admit she’s “old”). Deacon was her longtime collaborator and back up guitarist, and long ago was her boyfriend. Her husband is running for mayor. Her father is one of the richest men in Nashville and a Jock Ewing/King Lear archetype. She battles the pressures of motherhood versus her own career, her husband’s campaign, her family’s tight finances (in terms of the lifestyle they’re accustomed to), and her refusal to accept her father’s money (which her husband does, behind her back).
Juliette Barnes is the popular young singer at the peak of fame, who shares a mutual rivalry with Rayna. She’s been writing songs and having a fling with Deacon, and wants him to perform in her tour. The studio wants Juliette and Rayna to tour together. Her mother’s a drug addict, and she’s battling negative publicity after being caught on camera compulsively shoplifting.
Scarlett O’Connor, Deacon’s niece, has just arrived in town and is singing in nightclubs, trying to get discovered–though she is shy and wants to be discovered as a songwriter, not a performer. She’s surrounded by a couple similar looking guys also trying to make it, who in turn are being both professionally and personally wooed by female producers.
The main stories surrounding Rayna’s family drive the show, along with Juliette’s scandals, and the various soapy subplots, but what keeps the show from being just a cookie cutter serial drama, I think, is that the writers and producers do an excellent job with establishing themes in each episode, and paralleling the three women’s lives.
3) _Elementary_: Mary listed Aidan Quinn as one of her favorite actors on her Single Catholics Online profile. He played a police captain on NBC’s short-lived _Prime Suspect_ last year, after _Person of Interest_, and now he’s back in the same job but a different character on _Elementary_, directly on CBS after _Person of Interest_, with another of her favorites, Jim Caviezel. In spite of the discussion of whether these “Sherlock Holmes in present day” story is just a “rip off” of BBC’s _Sherlock_ (including that CBS directly approached the producers of _Sherlock_ after its first season), this is truly a very different take on the characters. In _Sherlock_, which I think I’ve reviewed on this blog, I see as much of _House_ and _Monk_ in the character as of Sherlock Holmes: in _Elementary_, I see far more of Greg House than Sherlock Holmes, including his predilection for prostitutes (the canonical Holmes insisted with Aquinas that chaste celibacy was the only way to maintain a precise mind). It’s a good show, and thankfully handles a variety of crimes and not just gruesome murders. There’s something a bit tedious about it. As far as the source material, it is *so* different that it seems to epitomize what C. S. Lewis says of television or film adaptations that change the source material so much they might as well just give the story their own name and character names (though some say Walter Hooper wrote that essay). In terms of aesthetic, it’s missing something to particularly attract me, though I can’t quite put my finger on it.
2) _Vegas_: part crime drama, part soap opera, something about this show appealed to me. Both this show and _Nashville_ struck me as being at least partly developed in response to the long-awaited _Dallas_ revival (which has been in development since 2010). The pilot came off as more “CSI 20 years earlier,” with bodies found in the desert outside Las Vegas and all that. Michael Chiklis plays a compelling lead villain as mobster Vincent Savino, who is something of a Michael Corleone-type character. One review of the series I read said that if you’re going to build a show around an actor, Dennis Quaid (another of my wife’s favorites) is a good choice. Set in the early 60s, and contrasting the city and big business with the ranches outside, and Quaid’s Sherriff Ralph Lamb (based loosely upon the real long-time sherriff) walking around in a cowboy hat, it evokes much of what made the original _Dallas_ though without the emphasis on family, except for the “family” of the mob. While I’m
And that brings me to
1) _Arrow_: the WB/CW previously brought Oliver Queen, “the Green Arrow” into the live action spotlight on _Smallville_, where he served the producers originally intended for Batman/Bruce Wayne, but Warner was concerned about a conflict with the ongoing Christopher Nolan movie series, so they moved up the Green Arrow from B-list status to being the leader of the Justice League in Smallville‘s universe.. There has also been long speculation about a Warner _Green Arrow_ movie, especially after they incorporated the kind of hints in _Green Lantern_ that Marvel incorporated into _Iron Man_, suggesting long term plans for a long-rumored Justice League movie.
Anyway, while it’s based upon the DC characters, _Arrow_ like Smallville goes for the “realism” angle, avoiding flashy costumes. And since the Green Arrow was one of the pioneers of “gritty realism” in the 60s, often dealing with real life issues, the series is avoiding science fiction or fantasy elements, as well. I don’t think it dawned on me till this evening, in fact, how it’s really a lot like _Person of Interest_, with Oliver essentially being a blend of Finch and Reese (though he does have a bodyguard who’s a bit of Reese).
So far, his alternate identity is known to the public as “The Hood.” In this week’s episode, the Queen’s are hosting a dinner with various dignitaries, and they are gossiping about “the Hood.” Malcolm Merlyn, secretly the show’s arch-villain, looks at Oliver, who has been silent in the discussion, and asks his thoughts. Oliver replies that the vigilante needs a better name than just “the Hood.” Merlyn scoffs, “How about ‘The Green Arrow’?” Oliver replies, “That’s lame.”
Most of the supporting cast are original to the series or loosely based upon characters from the comics. Since Oliver Queen in the comics is middle-aged, that influences a lot of those issues. For example, in the series, his best friend is named Tommy Merlyn. In the comics, one of Green Arrow’s arch enemies is an archer named simply “Merlyn,” though in the recent DC reboot “The New 52,” one of Merlyn’s aliases is “Tommy Merlyn,” a socialite friend of Oliver Queen. In this week’s episode, Tommy’s father takes up the role of the “Dark Archer.”
Oliver has a sister, Thea, is *apparently* based upon Mia from the comics, one of Oliver Queen’s wards and sidekicks.
Then there’s the Lance family. Though the 70+ year history of DC comics is kind of convoluted at this point and involves multiple parallel universes, the “main” DC universe has two characters named “Black Canary”, mother and daughter. Dinah Drake was the first, and married Det. Larry Lance. Their daughter, Dinah Laurel Lance, becomes the second Black Canary and a long time love interest of the Green Arrow.
In this series, Det. Quentin Lance is a widower (possibility of his wife coming back from the dead or having died as a vigilante?) who had two daughters. Dinah Laurel Lance (everyone calls her “Laurel”) was Oliver’s longtime girlfriend, but he cheated on her with her own sister, Sarah, whom he brought with him on the ill-fated yacht trip that establishes the show’s backstory. Laurel is a crusading civil rights attorney, but so far the only hint of the Black Canary has been a reference to fishnet stockings. Her father blames the Queens for his daughter’s death and didn’t much like them beforehand, so he has it out for the Queens, and of course he’s hunting the vigilante. They already did the episode where he arrested Oliver for being the “Hood,” but Oliver came up with a convincing enough alibi.
Then there’s John Diggle, Oliver’s bodyguard and vigilante sidekick, an original character to the series who’s a military vet. He serves the classic role of coming to Oliver’s rescue when he gets in trouble and so forth.
Also new to the show are Oliver’s parents. Oliver, his father, Sarah Lance and others were on a yacht trip together. Something happened to the yacht which has yet to be explained, but they were all considered dead. Oliver and his father made it off the boat, but Sarah died. Oliver’s father died on the life boat and told Oliver that he wasn’t the man he thought he was. He said that he was part of a group who were literally destroying Starling City, and he gave Oliver a list of names, asking him to right the wrongs he did. Oliver spent five years on an island, which has been revealed as a Chinese penal island where the worst murderers in China were kept. One of those convicts wore a green hood and trained Oliver in survival, archery, combat, etc. Another has been revealed to be DC mercenary Deathstroke the Terminator.
A few other DC characters have made direct appearances: the Huntress (the daughter of a mob boss striking at her own father’s criminal organization, not the parallel universe daughter of Bruce Wayne), Dead Shot, and the Royal Flush Gang.
However, the over-arching story has been about a conspiracy known as Tempest, the list of names Robert Queen gave his son before he died. One of the things I find most interesting is that the pilot set up a potential _Hamlet_ scenario. After his father died, his father’s best friend, Walter Steele, married his mother, Moira, and took over Queen Consolidated. The pilot set it up with both Walter and Moira as suspicious characters. As time has gone on, Moira has been revealed as a key member of Tempest, who conspired with Malcolm Merlyn to kill he own husband but retrieved the sunken yacht as “leverage.” She seems reluctant about Tempest’s ultimate motives but so far is going along with everything, including her current husband being kidnapped. Walter, initially looking like a bad guy, has turned out to be an authentic good guy.
It has an intriguing overall conspiracy storyline that isn’t too convoluted or baffling. It has some neat bad guy of the week plots, involving a variety of crimes, usually in the realm of “helping out some person who’s been cheated by the system”. There are fantastic character dynamics. It has a cast of characters of different ages (though still no one particularly old), who actually look different from one another. It blends the serial drama of the soap with the serial drama of the comic book. It has the element of wondering what DC characters will show up next and how they’ll use them, with occasional Easter Eggs like a reference to Bludhaven. It blends intrigue, mystery, action and humor in a nice way. If its closest parallel among current shows is _Person of Interest_, it contrasts that series in having a brighter look and having its main characters grounded in family, however dysfunctional.