Premiere Week 2012: The CW

October 18, 2012
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The CW is a network that relies on a flagship series to sustain it. Gossip Girl was that series when it first debuted, and The Vampire Diaries has replaced it. However, they’re also a network that has struggled to manage much traction beyond this point, unable to launch further hits to stabilize it entirely lineup as opposed to simply a single night each week. Although WB holdovers like Smallville and Supernatural provided the appearance of stability, The CW’s own development patterns have been more erratic, with even “success stories” like 90210 drawing anemic ratings and sophomore shows like Hart of Dixie meeting a consistently lowering ratings threshold for renewal. Although new online viewing metrics could help The CW justify these lower live ratings to advertisers, a stronger lineup of cohesive, on-brand programming would be a more sure-footed step in a positive direction, something the network’s drama slate hopes to accomplish in the months ahead.

Arrow (Premiered 10/11/2012)

Following the lead of the Superman-inspired Smallville, Arrow follows the adventures of a billionaire playboy-by-day, vigilante-by-night (no, not Batman), based on DC superhero Green Arrow. Reemerging after being thought dead for five years, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) returns to Starling City looking to exact his own brand of archery-based justice and reconnect with his estranged girlfriend (Katie Cassidy) and complicated family. [Andrew Zolides]

Andrew Zolides – University of Wisconsin-Madison

Coming from the same network, source material, and pilot director (‘pilot whisperer’ David Nutter) as Smallville, the comparisons between the two DC Comics superhero adaptations are bound to come up in droves. However, the tone, style, and even major plot points of Arrow fall more in line with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (and its sequels) moreso than the CW’s former ten-season Super show, and this is very much a good thing.

The hour-long pilot moves at a brisk pace: rather than overload the audience with backstory upfront, this episode moves back and forth between Oliver’s return home and the possibly not-so-accidental disaster that led to his castaway years. This is a wise move, as it gives the audience a mix of pre- and post-accident Queen, played convincingly if not a bit dryly by Amell. Clearly changed from his playful ways into a serious, hardened man, the cross-cutting lets the viewer fill in the missing pieces for this change in personality (and, apparently, in fashion and archery skills).

Yes, in the biggest departure from its Superman-show predecessor, Arrow ups the action considerably, wasting little time before Queen dons his hooded, Robin Hood-esque secret persona to start cleaning up the city, a task entrusted by his father who died in that shipwreck. While the production quality leaves a lot to be desired (so many punches and arrows land just off-screen, and off-sync with the sound), I feel this level of action is sorely missing from network television, and Arrow fills the job adequately.

Where the show fails, however, is in the acting from most of its players, relying on overly dramatic, wooden performances from nearly everyone, including both Oliver’s family and his former/future(?) girlfriend Laurel (Cassidy). What will be most intriguing are which elements the show emphasizes in the future? While an end-tag promised more ‘soap opera’ shenanigans from Oliver’s possibly evil mother (Susanna Thompson), the tease of several DC villains (like the assassin Deathstroke) bodes well for the future of costume-clad action on the CW.

Jenna Stoeber – University of Wisconsin-Madison

The shadow of the Dark Knight lies heavily over the series premiere of Arrow. Our hero, Ollie Queen (Stephen Amell), shares plenty of qualities with his contemporary Bruce Wayne; both are super wealthy playboys with abs of steel who fight crime on the side. Yet the many wonderful ways in which DC comics has differentiated Ollie have been discarded. For example, in the comics his playboy personality, unlike Wayne’s, was not an act. In Arrow, instead of a frolicking socialite with a tendency to overindulge in liquor and romance, we get a brooding, traumatized hero bent on revenge.

The changes seem mostly motivated by a desire to transform Ollie into the dark, Christopher-Nolan-esque superhero in style these days, but the character suffers for it. The choice to bolster Ollie’s repertoire with some parkour skills was smart, adding a layer of interest and believability to an otherwise relatively action-less superhero. However, the show deeply undercuts the fact that the Green Arrow is a bowbased hero. Although we are treated to some fantastic shots of him jumping over obstacles and doing flips, we almost never get to see him actually shoot his bow; all the neat tricks are performed off-screen.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the romance between our hero and Dinah “Laurel” Lance (Katie Cassidy), a plucky attorney from Ollie’s past, and another comic-to-TV change, reminiscent of Rachel Dawes of the Batman movies. Only, what is there to say? We’re supposed to view her as The Love Interest, in place for a love-triangle with Ollie and his best friend – and probable future enemy – Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), but the stark lack of chemistry between Cassidy and Amell stopped this romance short before it could get going. Amell’s stiff portrayal robs the character of all his potential vivacious energy.

In the end, Arrow was a very familiar take on the superhero genre (two parts Robin Hood, one part Batman), with nothing particularly offensive or brilliant standing out. Viewers inclined to give shows a few episodes to get going will find enough questions laid out (what’s up with that mysterious island? What was the Queen patriarch involved in, and why does the Queen matriarch need to know?) to give them a reason to come back. Those less interested in the mysteries – or in the acting performances – might not be compelled to return.

Beauty & The Beast (Premiered 10/12/2012)

CW’s latest urban fantasy offering stars Kristin Kreuk as Catherine “Cat” Chandler, a homicide detective and “Strong Female Character.” Troubled by memories of her mother’s murder—and by the mysterious beast-like man who saved her life—she seeks to track down the assassins and happens to find her Beast, Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan) along the way. Vincent’s presence pulls her away from her partner, her sister, and her handsome, emotionally-available, doctor co-worker and into the dark and dangerous underworld of the city that he calls home. [Jenna Stoeber]

Jenna Stoeber – University of Wisconsin-Madison

There’s a lot to be said about the horrifying gender implications that are inherent in the Beauty and the Beast concept, but I’m going to side-step those discussions in favor of focusing on what this incarnation of the legend brings to the table.

Beauty and the Beast wastes no time in setting up several story arcs, a tactic that might help hold the attention of those audience members less interested in the storybook (literally) romance between Cat (Kristin Kreuk) and Vincent (Jay Ryan). Both characters’ tragic-pasts-story-arc get air time in the premiere. Cat has grown into a steely-hearted detective, afraid to let anyone get close, though you’d never tell by Kreuk’s friendly and compassionate performance. Her side of the story plays out in a standard police procedural format, which I was surprised to see carried out to completion. However, it wasn’t particularly well done, generally lacking in cohesion and believability. Perhaps the creators were banking on viewers to be so familiar with CSI-style police investigations that they could brush over the facts of the case. And indeed, I didn’t have any trouble following the conclusions they come to; it just wasn’t as compelling as it could have been.

I hope in the future, the show will find the right balance between the crime-procedural format that is Cat’s side of the story and the government-hit-squad that is Vincent’s side. As it stands, the main thrust of the show is focused on Vincent, which gives him ample chances to be the hero and save our beauty. It’s worth noting that Cat did not go down without a fight; I was quite pleased with the well-choreographed and intense fight scene in which she holds her own against three assailants. The action was exciting and well paced within the overall story.

Despite the loads of information the audience gets front-ended with, it’s not at all hard to follow, and the chemistry between Kreuk and Ryan is palpable and entrancing. The same cannot be said for the chemistry between Kreuk and the other participant in the prerequisite love triangle, Evan Marks (Max Brown). The show hurries past the Evan segments and lingers with Vincent, though this could be a reflection of where Cat’s own interests lie. In that vein, I was relieved to find that instead of being propelled by a Sudden Emotional Connection, Cat has a decent reason- wanting information about her mother’s assassination- to continue to put herself in situations with Vincent. I was worried this aspect of the show was going to be rushed- and there is still time for it to be- but for the time being they seem comfortable enough to build up the relationship the old fashioned way.

In the end, Beauty and the Beast has a lot of issues which could easily be fixed, perhaps by the next episode, plus the beginnings of what might be an interesting- if ever familiar and deeply flawed- romance.

Emily Owens, M.D. (Premiered 10/17/2012)

Mamie Gummer—Meryl Streep’s daughter—plays the eponymous character in this medical drama about a med-school intern (not M. D., as the title might suggest) in Denver. Emily is a bright, yet awkward young girl, who finds both her high school enemy and her med-school crush doing internships alongside her at Denver Memorial Hospital.  Thus, she must somehow find a way to retain her quirky idealism for life while dealing with interpersonal challenges at work, and adjusting to life after medical school. [Eleanor Patterson]

Karen Petruska – Northeastern University

I’m a Mamie Gummer fan.  Proof: I sat through more than one episode of Off the Map and also suffered through Evening.  Despite Gummer’s bumpy ride to what will inevitably be great fame, I was eager to check her out in the CW’s Emily Owens, M.D.

Though skeptical about the show’s “life as a doctor is just like high school” conceit, when Emily’s lesbian colleague Tyra walks her through the various cliques at the hospital, I got it (really, it is a funny and apt bit).  Emily is particularly troubled about having to return to high school since she wasn’t exactly cool back in the day.  To be honest, anytime I go to a new conference, I still feel 13, in the corner at a mixer. The thing about being an adult, though, is that even though I still can tell who are the cool kids, now I could give a crap about being a cool kid.  Emily, unfortunately, is not yet that enlightened.

That said, Dr. Emily so far wins hands down in the “who’s a greater model for modern feminism” match versus Dr. Mindy on The Mindy Project, a program that so far has made Mindy’s profession an excuse to create a rom-com. Sure, Emily has a crush on her med school colleague, and she has chemistry with her resident, but she also is a great doctor—competent, compassionate, and determined.

Gummer’s appeal extends beyond the fun of seeing her mother flash across her face (though that, too, is fun)—as Emily she evokes an optimism that is contagious (Emily is not a Grey-style twisted sister). At one point, the resident who is Emily’s future love interest prescribed some tough love for Emily, convincing her to hand over the Ring Dings into which she was crying by reminding her of patients with real problems. I was impressed that the CW took a moment to shatter the illusion in which their entire network operates—with characters free from financial care and a multi-ethnic cast who rarely acknowledge race as, you know, a thing.  Can you imagine Serena on Gossip Girl realizing that her white-person problems may not be so important, after all?   Even though Emily’s internal monologue can sometimes run a bit long, and even though the plotting can be clichéd and predictable, I’m not done with this show. I think there’s something there—and even if that something is just Gummer, that’s okay with me.

Lindsay Giggey – University of California – Los Angeles

Oh Mamie Gummer… I wanted to love you in Emily Owens, M.D. since I love you as Nancy Crozier, recurring character on The Good Wife.  Whereas Crozier allows her opponents to misconceive her as a girl-next-door when in actuality she’s a calculated opponent, Owens frustratingly lacks any such self-awareness.

Emily Owens, M.D. is a perfect C.W. show in the most frustrating way possible.  Whereas The C.W. (and The WB before it) have a long tradition of creating smart shows engaging with teen and adult audiences alike, Emily Owens, M.D. takes The C.W.’s young female demographic so literally that it misses the underlying intelligence of its predecessors.  It positions itself as Grey’s Anatomy for teens through its use of internal monologue as a narration technique and its blend of melodramatic relationship stories with case-of-the-week medical drama.  Moreover, Emily Owens, M.D. literalizes the “life is high school” trope played with by shows like Grey’s Anatomy, as Owens herself says as much several times throughout the episode.  In case we missed the connection, Owens’ high school nemesis is now her colleague, and the hospital itself is located directly across the street from an actual high school.

I should sympathize with Owens, since she’s smart and socially awkward, but I found myself frustrated with how consumed she is with her past nerdiness and how much she wants to be considered cool.  It’s telling that in the pilot episode, her strongest connection is with a teen girl patient as they talk about boys.  Whereas the show seems to want to show Owens coming into her own by the fact that she is clearly a smart compassionate woman, her accomplishments are undercut as she continuously acts and reacts like an unqualified girl.


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