It is one of the true ironies of TV that a 51 year old show continues to have the most original way of reinventing itself every few years. That, of course, would be Doctor Who, and the ingenious character device that has the Doctor “regenerate” every so often. That results in the Doctor being played a new actor each time, but more than that, it also means the Doctor becomes, simultaneously, a brand new character with a personality we have yet to know and an old familiar character with whom we already have a connection. Like I said, ingenious.
Doctor Who is the only 51 year old show on television that can honestly boast something akin to a series premiere this season, and while not exactly a pilot, when season 8 of the Doctor Who reboot (and season 34 overall) began about a month ago, Whovians all over our insignificant but loveable planet tuned in with an anticipation very much akin to seeing something for the first time.
What they wanted to see, of course, was Peter Capaldi taking the reins as the Twelfth Doctor. Capaldi, best known for the riotous British TV show The Thick Of It (which was adapted as the film In The Loop and on which Veep is partially based) represented a stark departure from the recent Doctor Who trend of getting younger each time (11th Doctor Matt Smith was the youngest ever to play the role). But it was nonetheless (and quickly showed itself to be) a brilliant choice.
Capaldi’s ability for mining humor out of irritation as the foul mouthed Malcolm Tucker translates perfectly to a more retro incarnation of the Doctor, one reminiscent of original Doctor Who star William Hartnell. But without the over-the-top verbal abuse and profanity, the humor is tempered with a smoldering intensity which is the perfect blend for any Doctor Who episode. The result is a Doctor who is both refreshingly new and comfortingly familiar.
As an added (and perhaps unintended) consequence, companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) at last seems like the ideal Doctor Who companion, when previously she only seemed to remind us of the absence of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), the quintessential companion of 11th Doctor Smith. That suggests the opportunity for expanded storytelling through Clara, and the introduction of a “companion’s companion” (Samuel Anderson). Having a couple-companion worked brilliantly in the 11th Doctor story arc and will likely do so here as well. The beauty, of course, is that Clara isn’t Amy, and the 11th Doctor isn’t the 12th Doctor, so even though they’re doing it again, it will be completely new. Like I said, ingenious.
IT SEEMS LIKE every few years someone gets the bright idea to center a show around a character who can’t die. The last time it was New Amsterdam which lasted 8 episodes. Forever, this season’s attempt, probably has about that long to live.
I think part of the problem is that, when you think about it, not dying is a pretty lame superpower. On Forever, medical examiner Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) is hopelessly death obsessed and isolated, in every sense a completely isolated character. And he has just two abilities: first, if he dies, he wakes up buck naked in a body of water; second, he can apparently learn a great deal by dying (this latter ability is not explained and makes no sense – if you get poisoned, do you know what kind of poison it is better than a scan of your blood would tell you?).
As a result, Forever’s plots are often shoe-horn gimmicky, with the story finding some reason why Morgan needs to go and die and get reborn to solve the mystery. It gets old. It’s also no fun. The Morgan character is 200 years old, but apparently accumulated only sad memories for those 200 years, and has no anachronistic coolness like Sleepy Hollow’s Ichabod Crane or immortal borne condescension like True Blood’s Eric Northman. What fun is living forever if you can’t throw it in other people’s faces.
Unlike it’s lead character, I suspect Forever doesn’t have long to live. For my part, I’m already done watching.
THERE’S GOOD NEWS and bad news for The Mysteries of Laura, NBC’s newest action comedy based on a Spanish TV show of the same name (well, Los Misterios De Laura, but you get the idea).
The good news is that when the show goes for funny, it hits on all cylinders. Debra Messing is a veritable Lucille Ball of in-over-her-head fish-out-of-water redheaded hijinks. Messing is hilarious. Here’s the problem: the show is an action-comedy, so it’s only trying to be funny about 25% of the time. The rest of the time, it’s asking you to follow along to help solve Laura’s mystery of the week, and that part of the show lags behind the comedy.
The thing is, I’m not sure why, because as whodunits go, this is hardly the worst I’ve ever seen. Is it that Messing can’t carry this kind of show? I’m loathe to suggest that. Like I said, she’s hilarious in the funny parts and, at least, credible when she’s in her role as a hard-boiled police detective. I’m willing to chalk it up, for now, to the show still being new and to the writing not yet able to deliver an integrated 40 minute episode. Sometimes new shows have growing pains. This is one of them.
In the meantime, Messing is much more fun to watch here than she was as endlessly hand-wringing script writer Julia Houston on Smash. She deals with her monstrously ill-behaved children at home, and her insufferable ex-husband (who just happens to be her boss) at work, and then goes out and points guns at people. It’s funnier than it sounds, trust me. I only hope the mystery part of the show can catch up to the laughs, because then they’ll really have something.
I can’t be the only one who felt this, but after the familiar opening line (“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night) and the music kicked in, hearing a voice that wasn’t Don Pardo tell me, “It’s Saturday Night Live” felt like anything but. I’m sure we’ll get used to it eventually, but for right now, I sure wish we could say, “Take it away Don Pardo.”
Educational TV. Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) There are a lot of books called Sherlock Holmes but there aren’t any books called Officer Hernandez (The Big Bang Theory); 2) A woman with three breasts can really fill out a W-neck sweater (Late Night With Seth Meyers); 3) Start up, cash in, sell out, bro down (South Park).
I know I positively reviewed The Knick a few weeks back, but perhaps I didn’t even do it justice. If this show was on HBO or AMC instead of Cinemax, you’d all be talking about it Monday morning over the watercooler, comparing it to Boardwalk Empire or Mad Men. The show is good enough to withstand the comparison, but it won’t survive enough of you not watching it. Give this show a look!
The Simpsons, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Family Guy all return to Fox on September 28, including a Family Guy-Simpsons crossover!
Once Upon A Time, Resurrection and Revenge air season premieres on September 28 on ABC.
Selfie and Manhattan Love Story debut on ABC on September 30.
The series premiere of Happyland airs on MTV on September 30.
Stalker airs its series premiere on October 1 on CBS.
Gracepoint debuts on FOX on October 2.
The series premieres of Bad Judge and A to Z air on NBC on October 2.
Survivor’s Remorse airs its series premiere on Starz on October 4.
The Graham Norton Show returns to BBC America on October 4.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: [email protected]. I welcome your input!