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 really wanted to like Once Upon a Time. It should hit me right in my happy place: fairytales mixed with the real world? Do you know how many times I’ve read Ella Enchanted? But while the show has emerged as ABC’s new big hit, it has not lived up to its own storytelling potential. I keep tuning in, hoping to find the show I was looking forward to last spring, and instead I keep finding a flat, CGI mess.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. I have some ideas:
1. Kill the Kid: I know this sounds cruel, and I’m also fully aware that this is not a show that’s going to kill off its adorable moppet, but I can think of several reasons it would be a good idea. Henry serves two roles on the show: 1) he’s the catalyst. He left Storybrooke to track Emma down and he brought her back to help with Operation Cobra. If he hadn’t, nothing ever would have changed and everyone would have gone on living under Regina’s thumb. 2) He’s the believer, the one person in Storybrooke who is certain that its residents are straight out of fairytales. And as a child, he’s given more allowance for this belief. If Mary Margaret or Archie walked around town claiming to be Snow White or Jiminy Cricket, they wouldn’t be allowed near young minds, but because Henry is only ten he’s just treated as an oddity and his belief is humored by most of the people who know about it.
But now imagine if Henry died, not at Regina’s hand, but some other fairyland baddie. Here you have a brand new catalyst: Regina might seek to avenge his death (the show consistently implies that Regina wants a child, but fails to show that in her behavior. Maybe losing Henry is what she needs to finally blossom into a nuanced character) and Emma might find herself working “Operation Cobra” without him, finally showing an interest in the project out of a duty to her dead son. And we might not have to hear the words “Operation Cobra” so often. (The quality of the show’s performances would rise significantly as well.)
This is starting to sound dangerously like fanfiction, so let’s move on to:
2. Quit it with the Lost references: We get it, there’s a shared family tree here, and Lost was a really good show, but Once Upon a Time‘s constant reminders only leave me wishing I were watching Lost instead. If you insist on your Apollo candy bars and your MacCutcheon whisky, your numbers and your patriarchal bad guys played by Alan Dale then leave them as set decoration. Don’t let the camera linger on them, taunting your audience with reminders of a show you aren’t living up to.
3. Employ a little subtlety: No one doubts that the Evil Queen/Regina is evil. It’s in her name. Plus, she spends all of her time manipulating people into killing her family members and pruning a tree full of shiny red apples. She is not a good person. But there are plenty of ways to show us just how bad she is that don’t require her to stalk about interrogating strangers and looking angry.
Go take a look at the third season of Buffy (I know the you’re familiar, some of your writers wrote for the third season of Buffy). Look at that mayor, just as if not more evil than Regina. He’s a family man, afraid of germs and foul language. If he weren’t trying to kill our heroine and ascend to giant snakedom his manners would be impeccable. But you never doubt that he’s evil or dangerous. He’s sweet and silly and undeniably terrifying. Regina is none of these things. She’s just kind of…malicious.
But the subtlety issue doesn’t just apply to Regina. Whether it’s lines like “I need my pain. It makes me who I am. It makes me Grumpy,” or an insistence on framing every shot of Sydney Glass in a mirror, there’s a constant sense that you want to be clever, and that you want the audience to know just how clever you’re being. And it comes across as smarmy and insulting.
4. Give the CGI a rest: I know you want to create a rich, magical fairyland, but your budget isn’t really making that happen. Instead, everything looks flat and cheap and fake. The best scenes in the fairybacks are the ones filmed in real places, whether they’re grassy farms or river banks. I believe the setting. There must be a way to work off of more existing sets, I’m sure there are bits of castles and cabins and the like in LA, left-overs from old movies and tv shows. And I suspect it would improve the caliber of the acting in the fairybacks, having the actors work on real sets instead of green screens. Save the money for the magic and the big, sweeping establishing shots.
5. Let someone remember who they are…and live: I think this may be the most important step. Having Graham remember who he was a few weeks ago could have been great. He could have been another voice, this time an adult voice, a more reasonable voice, telling Emma that this whole Fairyland thing is for real. Instead he died seconds later, taking what he knew with him.
If one person remembers who they are–and I’m thinking it should be Mary Margaret or Archie, someone Emma is more likely to believe–then that’s forward momentum for a story that’s been inching along since the pilot. This is a show that could learn something from Vampire Diaries rapidfire plotting and crazy shenanigans.
And boy would it help if you got rid of the kid.