A few days ago I talked about some of the new series I’m anticipating this fall, but they’re not the only thing I’m looking forward to come the start of the TV season. For the first time possibly ever, nearly every show I watch got picked up for another season–everything except Bent, which was sadly never coming back anyway, and Ringer, which I won’t so much mourn as lament, since SIOBHAN AND BRIDGET NEVER CAME FACE TO FACE!!!!!–even the shows that seemed like they stood no chance. I never thought I would be looking forward to fourth seasons of Community or Cougar Town, for example, as much as I may have hoped for both.
So with the new television season looming, here are some of my most anticipated returns, in no particular order:
1. Castle (ABC)
Castle finished off last season by finally (finally) turning its will-they-won’t-they central romance into a THEY WILL! central romance. While they may not have waited as long as Bones did (and, unlike Bones, had the decency to actually show Castle and Beckett’s long awaited union), it certainly felt like it took awhile for us to get here. With the big kiss closing out the season, it’s easy to forget that another major shift took place in those final minutes, with Beckett resigning from the twelfth precinct and Esposito getting suspended. While it seems unlikely that the show will give up its police procedural premise, it will be interesting to see how things are resolved. And to see how the show handles the romance.
2. The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
I’ve talked before about the non-stop thrill-fest that is The Vampire Diaries, the way the show employs rapid-fire, tight plotting to keep its audience invested and to keep the story barreling along–I don’t know if you could get off the train if you tried. But last season ended with possibly the biggest plot twist yet: Elena, choosing to give up her own life out of love for one of her oldest friends, and then waking up as a transitioning vampire.
A year ago, at the end of the second season, Elena was given a choice: become a vampire and “live” forever, or face certain death. At the time she chose death (obviously her friends found a loophole), and she gave a big speech about how much she did not want to become a vampire. About how she wanted to grow old, have a life, meet her own potential. She was perhaps the only teenager in the history of fiction to understand that just because she loved a vampire (or really anyone) passionately when she was 17, their love may not be eternal. Or at least she stands in stark contrast to Bella Swan.
A few characters on the show have now made the transition from human to vampire (or werewolf in one case…well, werewolf and then werewolf/vampire hybrid), and that change is never the same for any two characters. Elena has always functioned out of love, making choices and sacrifices again and again for her brother, her boyfriend, her friends. And the vampire canon of The Vampire Diaries long ago established that a character’s personality isn’t so much changed as magnified by vampirism. Setting up the season with Elena in transition opens up a myriad of possibilities for telling stories about control, about choices and about Elena–my favorite subject. I am excited to see where the story goes.
3. Bones (FOX)
I’ve never considered Bones to be my favorite show, but it’s always had a curious affect on me–almost the second an episode ends I find myself itching for the next one to air. I find even short hiatuses to be interminable. Which is unfortunate, since it seems to take a long break every spring for the new season of American Idol. Basically, I am always in a state of anticipating new episodes of Bones.
While I do agree with the popular opinion that the series is not as good as it once was, and while I’ve already mentioned my frustration that they chose to unite Booth and Brennan off-screen last year, after making the audience wait six seasons, I still find myself eager for the show’s return.
It helps that they ended last season with an intriguing cliff-hanger, with Brennan accused of murder and taking her parents’ way out–running away. Of course, she took her kid with her, having been the kid that got left behind, but she did not take Booth. And while I doubt the show will do what I want it to–a massive time jump–I’m still interested to see how this pans out, how it affects Booth and Brennan’s relationship, and how Brennan ultimately proves herself innocent.
4. Community (NBC)
My interest here is less plot based than creative.
I love Community. I was seriously bummed when it went off the air for much of last spring–bummed to the point of attending a goatee-ed Christmas flash mob outside of Rockefeller Center last winter–and thrilled at the initial news of a surprise fourth season pick-up.
But I also know that a huge part of what makes Community so great is that it comes out of Dan Harmon’s brain, which is clearly a weird, somewhat disturbed, but largely delightful place. I don’t doubt that Harmon is difficult to work with, that he’s pretty screwed up, and that he’s made some mistakes in his professional life that would contribute to the decision to let him go, but I also know that the entertainment industry has made a lot of allowances for brilliant screwed up people over the years, and I worry that they’re sacrificing the very thing that makes Community great. They might be giving the fans another season, a season they didn’t really expect, but…are they really?
There are still enough of the same people involved with this new era of Community that I won’t be writing off the show until I’ve seen it. Obviously the cast is the same, and writers whose episodes I have loved, like Megan Ganz, are still on board. The information coming out about season 4 has been encouraging. So I am excited to see what’s next for the show. I’m just a little nervous as well.
5. Parenthood (NBC)
Parenthood has never quite managed to fill the Friday Night Lights shaped place in my heart, hard as it tries, but I do love it quite a bit. It’s a show that manages to tell compelling stories about nearly all of its characters–Joel and Julia are the big exception there, but the writers have gotten some things right with them of late and set up their season 4 arc in an interesting way–and allows each of the Bravermans to be flawed (often deeply flawed) and still sympathetic.
Season 3 did not leave a lot of plots hanging, probably due to the series’ uncertain future, but there was an impulsive marriage proposal in the final minutes. Mostly I am eager to spend time with these characters again. If that’s not a hallmark of a good show then I don’t know what is.
6. Gossip Girl (The CW)
I am actually furious with this show right now. I’m furious because I’m only invested in it over the relationship between two characters (Dan and Blair), a relationship that has basically been set on fire to service a different relationship (between Blair and Chuck), which I will never understand. I’m also furious because the season 5 finale basically functioned as a reset button for the series, taking nearly every character and relationship back to where it stood in the second season, no matter how ridiculously most of the characters had to behave to get there. It’s lazy writing done to service demanding fans. And it’s not particularly surprising coming from this show.
Unfortunately, now that I’ve gotten invested in Gossip Girl again, I’m going to have a hard time letting it go. Though I may seethe my way through it each week, I’m ready for the show to come back. The faster it comes back, the faster we can get through these final twelve episodes and the faster I can move on.
(There’s also the tiny part of me that is hoping things will turn around, that everything the show has done up until this point has been a giant misdirect and it will all shake out the way I’d like it to. That seems highly unlikely, but as I am still a fangirl, a certain amount of delusion is built into the way I function.)
7. Once Upon a Time (ABC)
Once Upon a Time never quite grew into the show I wanted it to be. It had its moments over the course of the first season, but I mostly found it frustrating. The show did some cool things with its series finale, though, mostly by letting everyone remember who they are and where they came from, but also by unleashing magic into the “real world.” And I have always been a sucker for stories that allow the world we live in to coexist with fantasy worlds.
I don’t know if things will improve in the second season, but I certainly hope so. This show still has the potential to be something really cool, I still want it to be something really cool. And I am interested to see how the relationships between the characters shift as the memories of their old lives get tacked on to the memories of their new ones. The relationship between Emma and Mary Margaret and David should be particularly intriguing–how do you deal with the discovery that your best friend is also your mother? That you’re the same age as your daughter? The show has nothing but potential and I’d like to see it live up to that.
I watch a lot of critically acclaimed TV: The Good Wife, Mad Men, the NBC Thursday night comedy line-up (except for the not-so-critically acclaimed Whitney, which inspires in me the strong urge to cry/vomit/throw heavy objects at my television), Breaking Bad. I also watch a lot of good-not-great TV: The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Castle and Bones. Even some outright terrible television: One Tree Hill, Glee (until recently).
But then there’s a category that is great-to-me TV. These shows may be hit-or-miss, they may not fit a typical definition of outstanding television (or, hey, maybe they do–you don’t find a lot of people who both watch and don’t love Vampire Diaries these days, critics included, and I’ve already expressed to you that I find it to be the best show on television), but they have a hold on me that makes me love them in spite of flaws, in spite of a tenuous grasp on reality, in spite of almost anything really. In this category you can find How I Met Your Mother, Psych, the aforementioned Vampire Diaries…these are the shows I most look forward to each week (in addition to the NBC Thursday night comedy line-up, which is basically a religion in my apartment). They’re the shows I most hate to see go on hiatus (even for just a week), whose return I most anticipate in the fall (sometimes Castle and Bones fall under this category as well). I watch One Tree Hill because I literally cannot stop (you don’t know how many times I’ve tried). I watch How I Met Your Mother because I don’t ever want to stop.
The latest show to fall under this category is Gossip Girl.
I was a fan back in the first season, devouring all the pre-writer’s strike episodes over the course of a long car trip to Florida in January of 2008. I watched off-and-on in season 2 (this goes against my fundamental rule of television, which is to watch everything and to watch it in order), and quit entirely in season 3. Until the series finally paired up a couple of characters I’d been waiting to see together since season 1, Dan Humphrey and Blair Waldorf. And I very quickly found myself sucked back into the series.
It’s a silly show, very soapy and focused around a heavily exaggerated vision of an already exaggerated world. But it’s also absorbing. The characters have sharp style and sharper tongues. They are eternally playing a game of musical partners, often matching themselves up in configurations that are at best repetitive and at worst vaguely incestuous. And none of it bears any resemblance to the so-called “real world.” Vulture even does a weekly reality index, weighing the ridiculous against the believable (though they define “believable” on a bit differently than most). They also call it the Greatest Show of Our Age.
Mindy Kaling wrote in her new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (which is excellent and which I’m sure I’ll talk about more at some point), that she “regard[s] romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than [her] regular human world.” If you don’t try to place them in our reality, she says, romcoms are highly enjoyable. I look at shows like Gossip Girl the same way.
My life is never going to look like Serena Van Der Woodsen’s or Blair Waldorf’s. Not even like Dan Humphrey’s, though he’s the show’s supposed everyman (the sort of everyman who ends up in a meaningful relationship with his dream girl at 17, dates an Emma-Watson-alike movie star his freshman year of college, hangs out with famous authors and has his first book published at age 21 to great critical acclaim). I may live on the Upper East Side, but the city I see every day looks nothing like the one that Gossip Girl blogs about.
At the same time though, the series keeps me coming back. I’m not drawn in by every plotline–I could care less about most things involving Nate, especially when he’s having an illicit affair with Elizabeth Hurley, and the never-ending saga of Blair’s engagement to and subsequent pregnancy with His Serene(ly boring) Highness*, the Prince of Monaco is wearing thin–but the central conceit of the show–that these characters lives have been broadcast on Gossip Girl since their freshman year of high school, that their every move can be, and usually is, caught on camera-phone–still fascinates me**. The idea that they are fundamentally different because they can’t forget that they’re in the public eye, especially the hyper-judgmental public eye of the average high school student, is the guiding principal of the series and that is a whole can of storytelling worms.
But as I mentioned above, there was a very specific reason that I came back to this series after over a year without it: Dan and Blair.
The show set up a mutual dislike between Dan and Blair in the pilot and that only mounted as the series continued. They’ve teamed up when they needed to, generally to help out Serena, and they shared one very sweet scene in the fourth episode of the series, but the show has always gotten a lot of mileage out of the way Blair can spit out Dan’s name like it actually tastes bad. The truth, though, is that Dan and Blair actually have a lot in common, from their superiority complexes to, apparently, their taste in movies, and when the writers started to set up a genuine friendship between the characters last season, what evolved felt entirely natural. They still sparred, but so do all the best fictional pairs. They still had difficult admitting that they might like each other as people, but this only led to a bit of elegant and entertaining storytelling, in which they carried on their friendship like the illicit affairs that have been a staple of soaps for as long as there have been soaps. And they didn’t touch on the idea that there might be something romantic brewing beneath the surface of their friendship until outsiders started expressing their opinions on the strange duo.
I should say that I am almost certain that the writers of Gossip Girl are going to screw this up. The series has been pushing the supposed true love between Blair and Chuck since the first season (though having just rewatched the first season I have to say I don’t really see it–Leighton Meester and Ed Westwick have undeniable chemistry, but the be-all-and-end-all attitude toward their relationship comes about rather abruptly), and what’s more, Blair is currently engaged to a prince and pregnant with an heir. I also have little faith in the creative juices that are fueling the pairing. They may be able to spin an absorbing tale, but they’ve never shown much skill for sustaining one.
In the Gossip Girl voiceover that has framed the show since the beginning (the narration is done to catty perfection by Kristen Bell, though the dialogue is often nonsensical), there is one phrase we’re sure to hear every week: “you know you love me, X-O-X-O.” It may not be true for the Upper East Siders whose secrets she has so often exposed under the veil of anonymity, but for this Upper East Sider, I have to admit, her words hold water.
* I totally looked this up, and aside from the “(ly boring)” part, it is the correct honorific for the Hereditary Prince of Monaco. Go Wikipedia.
** Admittedly it’s not always used as effectively as it could be, but the show has absolutely gotten it right on occasion. Whether Dan was trying to get his sister to listen to something she wouldn’t hear from him directly or Chuck wanted to speed up the inevitable break-up between Blair and Nate or Blair needed guidance from the all-knowing to help Serena out of a tight spot, Gossip Girl was there.