A long time ago, we used to be friends…

ImageI have a long list of TV shows that finished too early for my liking. The nature of the industry is such that shows that display rare originality, strong characterisation, fully-developed worlds and compelling stories, often find themselves with the plug pulled and their narrative without a natural end.

Over the years, creators have tried to revive such shows in a variety of ways. Joss Whedon continued his short-lived Firefly as a movie and a comic series. Jericho managed to wring a second (ultimately stunted and disappointing) season out of the production company thanks to overwhelming fan support. Arrested Development makes its return later this year thanks to funding through Netflix. And now a new possible solution has been revealed as cult-favourite Veronica Mars succeeds in sourcing funding for a feature film through Kickstarter.

Kickstarter has always been an exciting propositon; what better way to fund art than by sourcing the capital upfront from the eventual consumers? Rob Thomas is one of those television creators who never seems to catch a break. Every show he has put together (including the fantastic Party Down) has been cancelled. For whatever reason, the masses don’t seem to take to his product.

But now his fans have spoken and Veronica Mars, the feisty teen detective, will live again. I remember been entirely gripped by the mystery-laden first two series of Veronica Mars, yet the third series left me a little cold. I’m not entirely convinced we need a movie, but I’m excited about what this means for television and creative media in general.

Kickstarter has been going strong for a while now and has plenty of success stories under its belt (I recently watched the first series of Video Game High School and was pleasantly surprised). Yet the Veronica Mars movie takes the possibilities to a whole new level. It raised a record-breaking $2 million and stands to become the highest-profile project the crowd-funding website has supported.

Naturally, this has lead to speculation about other moth-balled series that could be resurrected in this manner and television creators such as Joss Whedon and Bryan Fuller have weighed in with their thoughts.

This is definitely a development worth keeping an eye on – another step towards a world where consumers decide directly what is worth funding – and an interesting proposition for dedicated creators who witness their creations failing to realise their full potential.

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TV shows you should be watching

Here’s a few TV shows that I’m watching right now that I think you might enjoy too…

Treme

Treme, The Wire creator David Simon’s latest television effort, has followed a similar pattern to his previous show. Now recognised as a true classic, The Wire was watched by few when it originally aired, gaining in popularity when it was released on DVD.

Now the same is happening with Treme, Simon’s study of the residents of a neighborhood of New Orleans after the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina. Natural in style and light on overly-dramatic story-telling, the day-to-day life of the Treme is easy to slip into. Central to the story is the world of New Orleans music (every episode has extended sequences of New Orlean’s legends playing music in various situations and settings) and the Mardi Gras Indians, yet as with Simon’s previous hit, the scope shifts and evolves, revealing the different ways people were affected by the disaster.

Its been announced now that the current third series will be followed by a reduced fourth series, that will wrap things up. Now is the time to start watching – in future years, you can be one of the guys who can say ‘I watched that when it was on TV!’

Parenthood

If I were to read a synopsis of Parenthood, I’m fairly confident I would have little interest in watching such a show. Luckily, the first thing I read was that it was created by Jason Katims, the executive producer of the near-flawless Friday Night Lights (just don’t mention that thing that Landry did…).

That was enough for me, as it should be for you. Having watched three seasons now, I’m confident that Katim’s touch is essentially gold – few show runners seem to have the skills that this man does when it comes to creating and guiding sympathetic and likable characters. There have been few shows where I have been this emotionally involved and, whilst it might be a cliche to say it, it does feel like hanging out with old friends each week.

The trials faced by the Bravermans – an extended and character-filled American family – are varied, ranging from life-changing issues such as mental illness, adoption, religion and divorce through to everyday concerns like becoming school president and hitting a home run in the little league. And if this all sounds like something you have seen before, rest assured that the characterisation and writing are strong enough that it feels like these topics are being tackled for the first time.

Currently in its fourth series, Parenthood has settled into a good rhythm and seems to have a strong enough following to ensure we will see more of the Bravermans over the next few years.

Parks and Recreation

Somehow, the cast I love the best – that holds a place closest to my heart – feature in a 20-minute single camera sitcom. When you first enter into the lives of the Parks and Rec team for Pawnee City Council, it is easy to dismiss Lesley Knope as a cheap knock off of The Office’s Michael Scott. Yet over the years she has evolved into a genuinely warm character who believably earns the respect of those around her.

And those around her take the show to even greater heights. Be it the lovable man-child Tom Haverford (with his never-ending parade of strange money-making ideas), Ron Swanson (an all-American anti-government government worker who loves nothing more than steak and hunting), or Andy and April (one of the oddest and most refreshing couples to grace our screens), there is no shortage of enjoyable characters. And then in series 3 they added Rob Lowe into the mix!

And Parks and Recreation is funny. Possibly the funniest show on TV. If the idea of strong characterisation and laughs isn’t enough for you, I don’t know what it. You should watch Parks and Recreation because, now in its fourth series (where The Office, How I Met Your Mother and other shows started to show a few cracks) it is stronger than ever, and showing no sign of slowing down. I am looking forward to the years we have in the company of Pawnee’s finest yet to come.

Louie

I find it hard to believe anyone isn’t watching Louie, yet I thought it prudent to mention it here anyway. Stand-up comedian Louis CK’s self-written, self-directed and self-edited show defies all attempts at catagorisation. Disguised as a single-camera comedy, Louie can be whatever the creator wishes it to be on a week-by-week basis.

This makes it all the more enjoyable to watch. There is no slavish devotion to structure here – Louie takes whatever form CK needs to tell his story (though the story is often minimal). CK’s ideas are central and whilst his alter-ego’s musings on parenthood, relationships, loneliness and life in general are often funny, the humour is derived from the situations and never feels forced.

Occasionally surreal, frequently hearth-breaking and always honest, Louie is unlike anything you have seen before. As CK takes a year off to recuperate from the punishing demands of creating the first three series, you have plenty of time to catch up and be ready for whatever the hell he has in store for us in 2014.

Michael J Fox is coming back!

No news could make me happier than the announcement that Michael J Fox will be returning to television screens in his first regular role since 2001. During his absence we have glimpsed the man in various cameos and guest-starring roles, though nothing significant to truly satisfy those of us who miss him the most.

Fox announced to the world in 1998 that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. His final cinematic efforts – Mars Attacks and The Frightners (no, I don’t count the Stuart Little series) – were a few years prior to this and he finished his regular TV gig on Spin City a few years later.

Whilst I enjoyed Spin City and a number of his other films (the ones mentioned above, along with Doc Hollywood, Teenwolf and Casualties of War), it was his performance as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future series that cemented a very permanent place in my heart for Fox.

So it is fantastic news that he will be back on our television screens once more. According to Vulture, his new show may well be loosely based on Fox’s own life, which kind of makes sense. He has always been a prominent activist, working hard to raise awareness of his disease, so it stands to reason that he might be coaxed back into the public eye with the purpose of continuing his increase awareness of Parkinsons.

Anyone who has read Fox’s book, Lucky Man, knows that he can tackle this subject with honesty and wit. That he will get an opportunity (the show is virtually guaranteed to get a full series order thanks to Fox’s involvement) to apply this passion in a dramatic form is very, very exciting.

A glimmer of hope for a future classic

Lizzie and Sarah was one of those rare beasts, a genuinely originally British comedy show. Created by and starring Julia Davis (Nighty Night, Gavin and Stacey) and Jessica Hynes (Spaced), Lizzie and Sarah tells the story of two down-trodden suburban housewives who take extreme measures to escape the drugery of their daily lives.

The show was awarded a pilot episode despite the unusally dark subject matter. Unfortunately, the BBC panicked at the last minute and consigned their excellent-but-potentially-controversial show to a late night premier. It was duly ignore by the majority of the public (thanks to the time slot and the near-complete lack of advertising).

As a result, Lizzie and Sarah was never awarded a full series. For those of us who were lucky enough to stumble upon this little-seen gem, it was a tragedy that a full series was never commissioned.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope. Julia Davis is reportedly still very keen to get the series made;‘I’d happily explore more,’ she said. ‘We have a lot more ideas and I would love to work with Sarah again.’

Although I haven’t seen it, Davis has just finished work on a show called Hunderby with Sky Atlantic, a channel fast developing a reputation for giving comic artists the freedom to create original material. Atlantic recently commissioned a TV-version of Adam Buxton’s BUG (search Youtube).

British television comedy is something I have fallen out of love with recently. Not since the golden age (well, my golden age, at least) of shows such as Black Books, Spaced, Big Train and Red Dwarf, has a show come along that has inspired me as much as Lizzie and Sarah. Nothing would make me happier than seeing a show this hilarious and shocking given an opportunity in this TV-comedy wasteland.

Thanks for the heads up, Chortle.

Gervais has a promising new vehicle

I must admit I had become a little disillusioned with the career of Ricky Gervais. Since the conclusion of The Office, and with the exception of projects that focus on his curio-oddball buddy Karl Pilkington, little that he has put out has really grabbed me.

His movies have been enjoyable enough, but Extras left me cold and his stand-up output has decreased in quality. Even so, I’ve always liked Ricky (I’ve enjoyed recent cameo performances in Curb your enthusiasm and Louis) and have been quietly waiting for a suitable vehicle for his particular talents to come along.

Now it would appear that vehicle might be here in the form of Derek, a single-camera comedy about a care home worker who might not be the sharpest tool in the box, but whose heart is in the right place.

The pilot episode in April was well-received and established an unusual focus – such a character in such a setting is an unexpected study for a prime-time television show.

I hope that Derek is successful. It seems to me the ideal vehicle for Ricky’s particular talents and I’m interested to see where he takes this simple, well-meaning character that is so unlike anyone  usually seen on our screens.

Fringe will get its finale!

ImageIf, like me, you have very much enjoyed entering the odd and unpredictable world of Fringe on a weekly basis, you’ll be glad to hear that the show has been renewed for a fifth and final series. Despite its ailing viewing figures, Fox has seen fit to renew the series and, since we are more used to Fox crushing our dreams (the cancellation of Undeclared, Wonderfalls and Firefly are the ones that still hurt the most), I thought it prudent that we give them their dues on this occassion and vocalise our appreciation for what they have done here.

Fringe fans have long feared the worse. A series has not gone by without a perpetual feeling of fear that the end is just around the corner and that we’d never get to see any conclusion to this bizarre, multi-faceted story.

When the first series premiered it was billed as the latest compelling densely-plotted mystery from the creator of Lost and received the viewing figures that reflected this promise when more than nine million people tuned in. Fast forward to series 4, and the series premier figures had fallen to 3.5 million.

Yet Fox has stuck with it and now we will get to see a conclusion to the story in this (altered) universe, the other universe and the dystopian future we have only just glimpsed.

Fringe is unlike any other show on TV. The blend of technology, old and new, and the fantastic has resulted in a feel that is futuristic (thanks, in part, to the super-advanced ‘other universe’) and grungy at the same time. The sheer volume of science fiction concepts thrown in (time travel, science-induced superpowers, omnipresent observers and alternate universes, to name the big ones) and the main focus of exploring the possibilities of the human mind, has created not only a platform for exploring interesting ideas, but also a story that is as unpredictable as it is just plain nuts. I for one am glad the showrunners will have an opportunity to create a satisfying conclusion.

Click here to read what the President of Entertainment and J. J. Abrams have to say.

Hope for the future

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The second series of The Walking Dead has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand we’ve been given something that I’ve always wanted – a zombie-based TV show – and on the other hand, that show has frequently demonstrated poor pacing and a lack of direction. But still we have a zombie TV show, so perhaps we shouldn’t complain too loudly.

The second series of The Walking Dead took place on Hershal’s farm, a locale where the protagonists hung out for little more than a couple of issues in the source material (a long-running cult-favourite comic of the same name), before things came to a head and the gang were forced to move on. Yet in the show, this lasted for something like 11 episodes. During this lengthy and frequently uneventful stay on the farm, it seemed to me like nothing of real consequence happened for whole episodes.

Image(It should be noted at this point that I like the comic book not only because of the badass zombie action it provides, but because it is first and foremost a story about people caught up in a difficult situation. One of the primary reasons I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction is that it can provide a platform for social commentary and the exploration of the ways communities evolve in and adapt to high-pressure situations. The comic does this, with perhaps more than a touch of melodrama, admirably. Yet the show, up until this point hasn’t managed to match the comic on this front – I have found the characters uninteresting and – at times – quite grating. If I appear to seem biased towards the more action-orientated aspects of this show, it is because it has – at least up until now – failed to provide consistently interesting characters or social interactions. And the action frequently kicks ass.)

As the finale unfolded, it was hard not to think that these events should have happened four or five episodes ago. Yet it was exciting to see the characters finally move on. Bringing the group together once they had fled the house allowed us to take stock of who we were left with. Throughout the series I haven’t been particularly engaged with the ensemble cast, yet seeing them all together, forced into a position where they will have to function as a cohesive group, I felt hopeful that perhaps this cast could provide an interesting dynamic as we move forward into the next series.

The zombie attack on the farm was possibly a highpoint of the series thus far. The action was exciting, fast-paced and perfectly paced as the group first try to defend the farm and then resorted to fleeing. The hazy shots of the crowds of zombies, backlit by the burning barn, were fitting goodbye to this chapter of the story.

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Any fan of the comic will tell you that its backbone is Rick and his struggle to balance his humanity with what he is prepared to do to ensure the survival of the group and his family. Forcing Rick to kill Shane has proven their willingness to take Rick down darker paths that the comic didn’t shy away from. Rick’s brutal admission to the killing shows that he is prepared to embrace the necessary brutality of this new world in order to become the true leader that the group needs.

The series finished by providing fans of the comic with a couple of teasing glimpses of familiar faces and locales that the next series will introduce. That they let us know that these key aspects of the comic will form part of the story of the TV series is reassuring and has left this fan greatly anticipating the possibiliities of the next series.

Despite all the slip ups we have experienced since Frank Darabonts exceptional pilot episode, it feels like series three could be the best yet. The final reveal of the nearby prison and the brilliant entry of a mysterious hooded stranger, trailing two tame (armless, presumably toothless – I can’t recall from the comic) zombie on chains, was a tempting glimpse into future of the series.