Updated! Premiere Week 2011: FOX
Fox has been the home to blockbuster hits like American Idol, surprise smashes like Glee, and is nearly single handedly keeping adult focused animation going with their Animation Domination Sunday. While Fox is more or less a mainstream broadcast network, from time to time it still shows itself willing to be the risk taker as a network. This season the risk is less in the programs then in its apparent year round premiere strategy. Fox is only premiering three new shows this fall, lets see if they make them count!
Terra Nova (Premiered 9/27/2011)
Guys, where are we? The pilot for Terra Nova felt remarkably Lost-like. I almost imagine the show being born when a Lost fan said, “remember that moment in the pilot when we hear a primordial noise in the jungle, and you sort of expect it to be a dinosaur? Well, what if it was a dinosaur?” After all, we’ve got the settlers in a lush environment, the fear of what lies outside the camp, the Others, daddy issues run amok, a lone renegade individual out there somewhere, scary creatures, a colonial outfit with unclear motives run by an untrustworthy guy with a long history with the place, an interest in do-overs, second chances, and destiny, time travel and the prospect for as many flash-forwards, flash-backs, and alternate realities as you care to imagine, and to top it all off, Allison Miller’s hair specialist seems to have consulted the same How to Make Your Hair Look Great in the Jungle specialist as did Evangeline Lilly’s. On the downside, the cast isn’t as strong (Michael Emerson > Stephen Lang anyday), nor is the writing as tight. And most of all, especially when compared to Lost, Terra Nova’s pilot suffered from being in such a rush. Too many issues, divisions, and fault-lines were introduced at once. All in all, I found the show intriguing, and I’m more captivated and keen to watch the next episode than I am to watch the next episode of any of the other new shows. I guess they couldn’t draw so heavily from the Lost creative pool without picking me up in the bucket at some point. And perhaps in time it will seem silly to compare this to Lost (the British Primeval seems just as obvious a forerunner in some ways). But right now, it’s teetering on the edge for me, and I’d like to see it slow down and trust itself, before (yes, a review about a dinosaur show must have the obligatory stupid dino joke) it finds itself extinct.
New Girl (Premiered 9/20/2011)
Erin Copple Smith, Denison University
I have only one complaint about The New Girl: virtually every moment of the pilot made an appearance in the promos for the show, making me feel like I’d seen the whole thing before, albeit out of order. That being said, I liked the episode just as much as I’d hoped I would. I know what the
detractors are going to say: it’s too predictable, too enamored with Zooey Deschanel playing herself. It’s true–Deschanel is playing according to type as a goofy-but-beautiful misfit. But she does it so well, her fans in this house (both the humans, and at least one of the cats) didn’t mind. The supporting cast was also good, if playing toward common 20-something guy character types (bro, muscle head, lovable loser). But the acting was adept enough that I look forward to their continuing development as the series
progresses. So was The New Girl a bit predictable? Yes (particularly considering the seen-it-all-before-in-the-promos issue). But it was also refreshingly quirky and cute, much like Deschanel herself. The closing moments of the episode, when Jess’s roommates rescue her from being stood up by doing a group-sing of “(I Had) The Time of My Life,” exemplify the series’ tone as a successful balance of silly and sweet. In a sea of sitcoms exemplified by “edge”, I find that sweetness more than welcome. Will some folks complain that it’s too predictable, too saccharine, too…whatever? Definitely. But I thought it lived up to its promise. Zooey & Co., (I had) the time of my life…and I owe it all to FOX.
Alyx Vesey, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Zooey Deschanel’s voice is the aural equivalent to a photo taken in Hipstamatic. Its graininess simulates a superficial, imagined vintage aesthetic. Deschanel co-wrote and performs the theme to her new sitcom, The New Girl. Inspired by John Sebastian’s theme for Welcome Back, Kotter, it intends to present the actress and lead character as “adorkable”. Perhaps it was once a curious move for a film actress to star in a network sitcom. But The New Girl is another platform for Deschanel to assert herself as an indie pop star. If not Cotton ads, her lifestyle site Hello Giggles, or films where she plays the manic pixie dream girl, why not a sitcom with Glee as its lead-in?
Protagonist Jess Day often breaks into song, indicating the twenty-something’s supposed charm. The key difference between this free-spirited kindergarten teacher and Deschanel’s previous roles is that Day is considered ugly and repellent to men. Day impulsively moves in with three guys she met on Craigslist following a breakup. Nick (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield), and Coach (Damon Wayans Jr., who is returning to ABC’s Happy Endings) mentor Day on their definition of being sexy. Day’s best friend, model Cece Meyers (Hannah Simone, one of the few cast members of color), disapproves of this arrangement. However, she really wants Day to have a boyfriend. So she lends Day clothes for a date, even though she has a closet full of frilly dresses.
Creator and Fempire member Elizabeth Meriwether explored similar terrain in No Strings Attached, a comedy about Los Angelenos who hate their romantic prospects and seemingly each other. The New Girl has similar contempt for its characters. Worse, it also perpetuates the idea that young women are infantile co-dependents who need nerd glasses, insipid affectations, and male mentors to fashion an identity built entirely around men.
The X Factor (Premiered 9/21/2011)
Amber Watts, Texas Christian University
So, hey, remember back, like, 7 years ago when you still liked American Idol? When Simon and Paula fought so adorably, and we thought Randy Jackson might actually have real words to say? This is the same show, except the stage lighting is red (not blue), the judges have Pepsi cups (blue, not red), and Simon Cowell is doing Verizon (not AT&T) commercials. Yes, there are other differences—contestant ages can range from 12 to senile, vocal groups are allowed, the judges will eventually coach contestants, and LA Reid has thoughts beyond “dawg” and “a’ight.” Also, with a $5 million prize, the stakes of winning have been raised significantly. The lack of an upper age limit further opens the range of tragic backstories—last night’s “Susan Boyle” was a 42-year-old single mom with a heart-wrenching “dream deferred thanks to an abusive relationship” tale (although the consensus in my house was that she was pitchy)—which gives us more possible reasons a reality show winner deserves $5 million. In the end, though, I’m not sure if it will offer anything new, except, perhaps, exhausting the Fox-singing-competition audience before American Idol starts in January… That said, you should watch tonight’s episode; I was in the audience for the Dallas auditions, and the James-Brown-looking guy was pretty epic.