Random TV Watching Thoughts [April 2015 Edition]

[Consider this my semi-regular TV watching rant blog post.]

In the current state of TV, ratings and ad dollars still matter a lot, especially if it means the difference between a show getting renewed or cancelled. However, much has been made about a show’s social media presence. Because it’s no longer a matter of shows you watch and talk about at the proverbial water cooler at work the next day, it’s also about the shows that get you tweeting while you’re watching. Which is to say that many shows have sort of an added pressure to make every episode count (no fillers), constantly amping up the drama or action so you talk about it, and making you want more at the end of the episode.

All that introductory ramble pretty much leads me to this: I sometimes worry about TV and burning out. I look at shows like Arrow, The Flash, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, and the like, and start wondering how they could possibly uphold their no-holds-barred approach to writing their respective shows. Mind you, I’m not a creative writer so it would be hella difficult for me to even think about it from the perspective of a TV writer. But I worry that the need for these shows to maintain a fast-paced, high level of quality writing, will lead them to burn out too quickly. Take for example, episode 15 of The Flash “Out of Time” – that was some season finale level reveals, and yet they put it in the middle of the season! Not even a winter finale cliffhanger episode, but the first episode back from break! AND it’s still only the first season!

On the one hand, it’s great that some storylines and mysteries don’t get dragged out too long, because we are living in an age where there’s just so much TV that shows have to engage and keep viewers. I know for me, once I start getting bored with a show, I’m pretty much done with it. I don’t want to waste my time watching something I used to be interested in, when I can be watching something else. Granted, there’s usually built-up goodwill from the time I had invested in the series, that I will finish off a season before dropping it completely. By that point though, I’m usually putting it aside and watching whenever, instead of “I have to watch this immediately.”

On the other hand, when shows are going full force, constantly surprising us, there comes a point where those unpredictable moments are no longer surprising, and sometimes when it’s a couple of seasons in, those twists seem almost laughable. Scandal has been known to fill each episode with “OMG” moments, but when the season 3 finale rolled around, when we were expecting some jawdropping moments, I felt underwhelmed. When Revenge ended their season 3 with the reveal that [SPOILER] David Clarke was actually alive, it felt desperate, like it was a last ditch attempt to keep viewers for the next season. I was already done with the show by that point, but it definitely lost me after that.

If watching the Showrunners documentary (which, FYI, you should totally watch. It’s on Netflix. You’re welcome.) has shown me anything, it’s that running a TV series is hard work. Those who work to bring these shows to life are constantly struggling to find that happy medium, that allows for storylines and characters to be fully fleshed out, but still engages viewers, and makes money for the networks. All the while, they can’t lose their creative vision for the show to begin with. It’s a lot to deal with, and as viewers, despite our complaining and wanting so much of our favourite shows (see above), we have to be cognizant of that.

All of this leads me to some important questions as a fan and viewer:

  1. In order to sustain the level of quality expected, what is the ideal number of seasons for a TV show to run? We have A LOT of instances where shows get cancelled too soon, but what of the shows that run on longer than they should have?
  2. Wouldn’t it be easier if all shows ran for just 13-18 episodes per season? Long enough to tell the season-long arc without having filler episodes.
  3. If shows ran for less than the standard 22-episode season, there’d be room for those underrated TV shows that seemingly get cancelled too soon. More TV on the air, less repeats/breaks, everybody wins, no?
  4. In terms of content, are we expecting too much from our shows? Then ultimately feel let down when they don’t meet our standards or expectations? What happened to just enjoying the ride and letting them entertain us?

Obviously, this is all just my opinion on what’s going on with TV shows. What I think is boring or great, others will think is not. That’s the beauty and also frustrating thing about TV: we can all have these different discussions about it. We don’t all have to like the same thing (though it’s nice when we do, hence fandoms). But at the end of the day, we’re allowed to worry and ask questions of our shows. It’s just like any relationship, we just want the best for them.

Objectivity and Fandom: When Being a Fan Means Being a Critic

Consider this: You’re a fan of a certain show/band/actor/whatever, you will support them wholeheartedly, try to convince others of their awesomeness, and along the way because of your fervent fandom, you become blind to their faults and refuse to consider their flaws. Ever have that happened, to any degree? See, I’ve always considered myself a different type of fan; I mean, as a fan of MANY things, I don’t go stereotypical crazy fangirl. I’ll get excited but it wouldn’t be like “OH MY GOD! *flailing*” Even when it’s something that I’m a HUGE fan of, it never gets to the point where I’m blind to their faults and imperfections – I pride myself on still being objective. Take for example, Justin Timberlake. I love JT, love his music – there are some songs I love more than others, but for the most part, they’re all good to me. His movie career, on the other hand? Well let’s just say there’s been a lot of more misses than hits.

I ask and preface all this because I’ve had a weird feeling lately. I’ve had a few conversations lately about Maroon 5, plus my ongoing internal dialogue every time I listen to the new album, and every time a different thought/observation comes up. I’ve already given my thoughts on V with my review and I had said that as a whole, it’s a solid pop album. I was talking to a friend, who is a Maroon 5 fan, and she reiterated that she’s not a fan of the new music, which is something I completely understand. Again, I replied by saying that, “It’s nowhere near as good as Songs About Jane or Hands All Over, but it’s a solid pop album.” For some reason, that discussion about V, and then later on about music in general, lingered in my mind. On the one hand, I believe I’m still being objective by saying that V isn’t as good as M5’s old material. On the other hand, I found myself defending the album, still giving it some sort of praise. I mean, generally speaking, I do like the pop-ier side of music – it’s what I grew up on – but I also don’t like the majority of what is on the radio these days; a lot of it is just blah. Point of the matter is, I started to question my ability to be objective (or in other words, my sociology/over-analytical brain started kicking in). By calling it a solid pop album, was I just finding a reason to like it because I’m a big Maroon 5 fan and don’t like the idea of making myself seem like a bad fan if I don’t like the album? Have I already grown accustomed to this new Maroon 5 sound, that at the end of the day I’m essentially now grading them on a curve? Have I been unfair to compare them to their previous work, as opposed to treating each album as a separate entity in the general music landscape? Am I just being too harsh? Am I completely over-thinking things? (Probably, on the last question.)

The stage set-up for Maroon 5's Overexposed tour in 2013. They got pretty fancy with the walk-out bridge.

The stage set-up for Maroon 5’s Overexposed tour in 2013. They got pretty fancy with the walk-out bridge.

The other day while watching the season premiere of The Voice, my brother-in-law asked me about the new M5 album and again, I answered that it was pretty good, much better than their last album. To which he goes, “Yeah? I thought the last album was pretty good” (For the record, he doesn’t really listen to music out of his own volition. It’s pretty much what’s on the radio and then the off-time of whatever my sister’s listening to). Anyways, the conversation led to us talking about the popularity issue. Thanks to Adam being on The Voice, Maroon 5 is way more popular and mainstream than they were previously. And my bro-in-law brought up the point that like a lot of things in entertainment (games, movies, TV shows), once something becomes too popular and they start trying to cater more to the newer fans, but still attempting to appease the old fans, it’s just not the same as it used to be. Which obviously got my brain turning: Have Maroon 5 REALLY gotten too popular for their own good? Not that I hadn’t realized this to some extent already when I bought tickets for their upcoming tour (nearly $150 per ticket, fees included, for lower level tickets?! Really guys? I remember when it used to be HALF that!), but to have it stated in that way just clicked in my head. The guys themselves have said as much that music is really a producers’ game right now, which is more or less why we’ve been getting such pop-ish music from them. All of a sudden, everything made sense; they are catering SO MUCH to mainstream radio that I sometimes don’t even know if I’m listening to the M5 I fell in love with. The one day I went from listening to V in my car to Songs About Jane at the office, and it was such a stark difference between what they used to be and what they are now, that it was almost unsettling.

Maroon 5 kept it fairly simple for their 2007 tour, in support of their second album It Won't Be Soon Before Long

Maroon 5 kept it fairly simple for their 2007 tour, in support of their second album It Won’t Be Soon Before Long

Moving away from Maroon 5, let’s talk about TV. A self-described TV addict, I’ve come to be picky about what shows I watch and spend my time on. Long-running shows are bound to disappoint at some point in time; let’s be real, there’s just no possible way for the staff writers to always keep things new, fresh and deliver in the way that we want as fans. I liken it to a form of Stockholm syndrome – they may think it’s a good idea in the writers’ room but it’s likely that a lot of the writers on staff have been there a long time and there’s no fresh blood or a different set of eyes to be critical. Then there’s the case of new shows. A lot has to be put into place to get a show on the air and to just work so viewers will tune in: cast chemistry, a solid hook, building on that hook with some smart writing whether it be for laughs or dramatic effect. It’s in my belief that almost all new shows deserve a chance because they may surprise you and there’s probably something or someone there that is drawing you in to begin with.

Stalker is a new show by Kevin Williamson (Scream, Dawson’s Creek, The Vampire Diaries, The Following) that premiered Wednesday night and follows the LAPD’s Threat Assessment Unit as they deal with various stalking cases. It’s a CBS show, so naturally it’s a procedural, case-of-the-week type show, and it follows the similarly dark/twisted Criminal Minds on the schedule. The majority of TV critics have been pretty much saying “avoid this show like the plague” because it overdoes the violence and how it treats the women in this show is appalling. My comeback line every time I read something that trashes the show? “But, Maggie Q!” Yup, Maggie Q is already back on TV after Nikita, and because of how much I LOVED Nikita, I am going to be watching this show for Maggie, against my better judgment. I don’t typically like procedurals but, Maggie! I once was a fan of The Following, which is more of a serialized show but got similar flack for its use of violence when it premiered, until it got ridiculous, but again, because of Maggie, I’m hoping for something decent. And you know what? It was okay. Is it the best show in the world? No. It went along doing its CBS procedural thing with a Kevin Williamson twist. I can understand why so many critics absolutely hated it, but if you look past the extreme violence (obviously a ploy meant to sell the show in the first place and attempt to hook viewers in), it was alright. The best thing the show has going for it is that there’s an attempt to flesh out the main characters of Beth Davis (Maggie Q) and Jack Larsen (Dylan McDermott) and give them some more personality and depth than your average TV cop. Plus, there’s something interesting about it from a sociological standpoint. I’m probably giving the show more depth than I should be, in my attempt to give reason for watching it, but MAGGIE FREAKIN’ Q you guys!

Pilot

I read an article recently, which was more or less an essay, written by Talib Kweli defending Lauryn Hill. Lauryn Hill is such a great artist, and ever since the release of the incredible The Miseducation of…, people have been clamoring for more. She hasn’t put an album since then, and hasn’t done very many shows either; there were a couple of times when she showed up extremely late for a show and people were outraged. In the piece, Talib Kweli talks about the relationship between artists and fans, and how it can be misconstrued. At the end of the day, artists have a responsibility to themselves, to do what they want; fans are not owed anything by the artists to do what they want as fans. I really suggest reading the piece because it’s so thoughtful and gives you a different understanding of what it means to be a fan. Reading this piece as I’m going through these thoughts and feelings, it just really brought up the things I’ve been wanting to say. Tying it back to Maroon 5, as a fan of theirs I want them to just do what’s right for them; I don’t want to see them lose who they are as artists, as a band because of this commercial success they’ve been getting.

So what’s the moral of the story/analysis/rant? Sometimes, being a fan means being a critic. You can be supportive of everything your favourites do, but remember you don’t have to like everything. You’re allowed to be objective, have opinions, and make it known. Not liking something by your favourites, doesn’t make you a bad fan – people change, tastes change, maybe the output really does suck and you’re just speaking the hard truth or it’s just not your cup of tea anymore. IT’S OKAY! There’s no need to blindly love something out of habit or just because. We’re all fans of something and with the help of social media we can revel in the successes of our favourites and dish out constructive criticism – let our voices be heard. I’m not saying our faves need to be meeting the wants and needs of all their fans out there, that would just get out of hand very quickly. Instead I say, be critical of your favourites and recognize that they’re not going to live up to all you expect from them. They are human beings too, and are allowed to do what they may feel is right for them at any given time, experiment with their music or acting roles. If you like it, great; if you don’t, whatever.

Sorry if this whole thing came out a little convoluted, I just needed to get all these thoughts in my brain out. But let’s turn things over to you: have you ever had a similar situation, wherein the definition of being a fan gets put into question? Is there such a thing as being a “bad fan”? What’s typically the “breaking point” to when you’re no longer a fan of something?

American Idol: What Does the Latest Season Mean for the Show’s Future?

I’ve made it known that as of late, The Voice is my singing competition of choice. Regardless of that fact, American Idol is still the biggest show on television (despite declining ratings) and yet with Phillip Phillips’ win on season 11 of the show, you can’t help but wonder how this affects the show’s future. Phillip’s win marks the 5th straight year a “white guy with guitar” has won the show, beating vocal powerhouse, 16 year old Jessica Sanchez for the title.

I can certainly make the case that when David Cook and Kris Allen won seasons 7 & 8, it was justified regardless of naysayers. Both seasons ended up being a close match between the final 2. In season 7, David Cook took it over David Archuleta, and I bet that in its current state, had there been a re-do Archuleta would’ve won the overwhelming teenage vote. But Cook won on his own merits: not only was he a great singer, but he proved to be rather adept at rearranging songs to fit his style and make it contemporary. Also, let’s be honest, the game of Idol (and every other singing competition) changed after that amazing season 7, which featured a multitude of true artists and not just your standard singers. In season 8, Kris Allen, the underdog of the season, beat Adam Lambert, who was long considered the one to beat with his incredible vocal range and knack for the dramatic. And yet, that ability to stir up controversy and divide people with a “love him or hate him” sensibility, might have been Adam’s downfall, because Kris appealed to a wider, more general group of people. Kris’ arrangements, like Cook, ultimately helped him win as well, because it sounded like something that was radio-ready.

Season 9 was when things started going downhill, at least for me anyways. It was Simon’s last year and you felt as though he was kind of phoning it in. The contestants themselves weren’t all that memorable either. I can name the winner and runner-up with ease (that’d be Lee Dewyze and Crystal Bowersox), but I’m honestly struggling to name anybody else. Season 10 I dropped roughly halfway through the live shows because I continuously found myself having issues with watching the show, watching the judges give non-critiques, singers and their bad song choices…Not to mention, I’m not a huge country fan so that final 2 of Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina wasn’t all that compelling/appealing to me.

So back to the point with Phillip Phillips winning this season, especially against someone like Jessica who just killed it week in and week out, it makes you question whether a female can ever win this thing again. The conspiracy is that these WGWG win because they are very marketable and so on, but at the same time, how do you explain their record sales? David Cook and Kris Allen’s record sales were decent but not great, and despite the fact that their albums were very well put together and certainly enjoyable. Lee DeWyze has the unfortunate distinction of being the Idol winner with the lowest sales numbers for his debut album. Scotty McCreery managed to get a pretty good number of albums sold, but Scotty is also firmly planted in the country world, which has been nothing but accepting of former Idol contestants. But Idol has always prided itself on the fact that they find “superstars”, and yet the last real superstar they found was Carrie Underwood…back in season 4. We can probably extend this to season 5, when Chris Daughtry competed, and even though he didn’t win his season, he is one of the most successful artists to come out of Idol. So what does this say about Idol? Has it lost its touch? Or is this just a reflection of the music industry today?

I’m inclined to say that it’s a little bit of both. If Idol really is about finding a “superstar” as it claims it does, then Adam Lambert probably should’ve won season 8, and Jessica Sanchez or even Joshua Ledet should’ve won this season. But the fact of the matter is, these WGWG wins is adding up to be bad business for the Idol machine. Some say these guys are marketable, others say they add up to other artists out there who fit the WGWG mold. Let’s be real here, the labels who release these Idol winner & runner-up albums don’t do very much in marketing these so-called marketable artists, except the obligatory ad + CD sticker saying “Hey! Here’s the album from this year’s American Idol winner!” Not to mention, they rush the production of the album to get it out by November, which is a time where a lot of the big name albums come out. How does anyone expect these new artists to compete with more established names? Granted, like I said previously, David Cook and Kris Allen’s debut albums were very solid efforts, taking everything into consideration, but as a fan of theirs, I feel like more could’ve been done in the marketing area. It’s also true that the WGWG exists all too frequently in the music world, and only a handful are able to breakthrough to the mainstream, at any given time. Honest, the most well-known WGWG in this generation is John Mayer. He came to the scene at a time when the music world was filled with boy bands and female pop singers. Jason Mraz had a few minor hits, but you couldn’t really consider him a big name until he released “I’m Yours.” So where exactly does this leave all these other guys, who pretty much play into the same group, are equally talented, but don’t quite have the ubiquitous hit song that ultimately gets overplayed on mainstream radio and makes them more well-known? Guys like James Morrison, Tyler Hilton, Matt Nathanson, Ry Cuming, Jason Reeves, just to name a few. I know I listen to these guys because they make great music, but they aren’t nearly as famous as they should be.

But then there’s also the issue of demographics. The ones who are most likely to vote for the American Idol winner are teenage girls. They can vote all they want, but that doesn’t necessarily carry over to album sales. They are more likely to (illegally) download the album, because they’re crafty like that, than buy the actual album. Same goes with the fact that Idol may get 16 million viewers (on average), but of those millions, how many watch it simply as a television show and when it’s done, they move onto something else? There is also then an issue of mainstream radio and the general music industry accepting singers coming from Idol. Sure, Idol is this great platform for new artists, but at the same time, the regular music listener/”fan” might be a little adverse to Idol contestants and not taking them seriously. While we’re on this topic, let’s talk Grammys. American Idol has been around since 2002, and it wasn’t until 2006 that a former Idol contestant (in this case, first season winner Kelly Clarkson) won a Grammy, and the following year, Carrie Underwood became the only contestant to win Best New Artist.

It is important to note that the music industry is very fickle. Especially lately, almost everything you hear on the radio is dance-centric music, with few exceptions. There’s practically no room for these WGWG to make a dent in the rotation unless they have a bonafide hit single that is loved by the masses. Actually, that applies to almost everyone, unless you are a highly beloved/established artist or you play straight into the teenage girl demographic (Bieber, One Direction…I sound old by saying it, even though I’m not, but I don’t get them)

So with all this being said, what does Phillip’s win mean for the future of American Idol? Well, we may have to wait and see how his album will sell late in the year. But at this point, I don’t think a girl can ever win the show again. Not unless some changes get made in the voting system. It would also help if the judge’s critiques were actually fair and not utterly biased, as well as being a tad bit more critical. I’m not saying the judges have to be Simon Cowell, but some real constructive criticism would be great. All I’m saying is that Idol is getting stale, and if they still want to be considered the greatest singing competition on the air, they’re going to need to do a lot more than bashing the other shows.