Hulu Brings Us the Best in Canadian TV (?!)

We want to say that’s an oxymoron but aren’t in the mood for the flak. Fingers to lips then as we read:

Why you should be watching Hulu’s creepy deal-with-the-devil series The Booth at the End – by Lauren Davis

A father whose child is dying of leukemia. A Catholic nun who no longer hears God speaking to her. An elderly woman whose husband is suffering from Alzheimer’s. A man whose only ambition is to date a centerfold model. Each of these people in the Hulu series The Booth at the End wishes for something desperately enough to seek the help of a mysterious Man who sits in a diner. He can ensure that they get their fondest wish, but only if they complete the task he assigns to them, a task with deep and sometimes deadly consequences.

The first five-episode season of The Booth at the End initially ran on Canada’s Citytv, but since then, the series has made the jump to Hulu, and is now three episodes into its second season. Each season so far takes place entirely inside a diner, where the Man (Xander Berkeley) spends his days sitting in the same booth. Occasionally, someone will come to him, mention something about the pastrami, and slide into his booth.

Everyone who comes to the Man wants something slightly different. Some want their loved ones cured of illness. Some want to be better, prettier, invulnerable. Some of them just want to make someone else happy. Some of them are damaged, some selfish, some simply placed in a terrible situation. The man tells them that he can guarantee that they get their wish if they perform the task that he assigns. Then he looks in his book and pronounces a task: this one must build a bomb and set it off in a crowded space, this one must rob a bank, this one must protect a little girl, that one must make a certain number of people cry. If they complete the task and tell the Man all about it, then they will receive what they asked for, no matter how impossible.

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We’ve watched several episodes here on Hulu, and while we think the io9 reviewer is being more than a tad generous about the acting and the quality of the writing we agree that it’s a promising and potentially fascinating series.

The Good: Dialog! People talking! Revealing themselves, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not! Word over action always works for us (except when it doesn’t).

The Not-So-Good: Dialog! People sitting in a room talking, talking, talking, making everything feel cheap and, well, interwebby. We long for escape from the confines of the diner. Movement. Air…gasp…air…

The Conclusion: You really need to watch it and decide for yourself. We know that we’ll be diving into the second season’s episodes ASAP.

“The Fien Print” on ABC’s NASHVILLE

Even we can enjoy a good soap. (Hey, can’t always be supercool, y’know?) And wouldn’t it be wonderful if this turned out to be just that? Gotta love the smell of betrayal in the morning! Yeah!

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: ABC’s ‘Nashville’ – by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch:“Take ‘Dallas,’ replace oil with country music, transplant it to Nashville and… BAM!” Or, if you prefer… “You know how NOBODY saw ‘Country Strong’? We could ditch the title, turn it into a TV show and nobody would ever know.”

ABC’s “Nashville” has every element in place to be a potentially great show. Or at least it has every element in place to be a fun primetime soap in an underutilized location with perhaps a little extra substance. And maybe the problem that I have with this pilot, which is solidly written by Callie Khouri and solidly directed by R.J. Cutler, is that it just has too many elements in place and no way to do justice to all of those elements in 42 minutes. Every time I got into one plotline or another, I was abruptly yanked out and forced into another and just when I settled in and decided I was interested in that plotline, it was off to something else. I got no cumulative impact out of the pilot at all, but I could see how I’d happily watch a series that ACTUALLY focused on Connie Britton’s Reba-esque Raya (kinda an inverted Mrs Coach, as a woman whose long overshadowed husband decides he wants his own profile) or Hayden Panettiere’s Taylor Swift-esque Juliette (kinda an emotionally wounded, sexually voracious singing dwarf) or Powers Boothe’s Lamar (kinda JR Ewing, only played by Powers Boothe) or the sweet dynamic between Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen (like a country-tinged “Once”).

What I didn’t buy was the attempt, at least in the pilot, to pretend like all of the storylines had equal value, when they clearly don’t. Boothe and Britton are, of course, two actors who I’d watch do just about anything and this has the potential to be the best project for Britton since “Friday Night Lights” and for Boothe since “Hatfields & McCoys” (yes, I’m well aware that those projects were two years and one year ago). Panettiere doesn’t have their chops, but she’s actually perfectly cast in this role and I love the visual dexterity required to frame her in a way in which she looks full-sized.

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EDITED TO ADD: Speaking of NASHVILLE, this just in. The original showrunner, Jim Parriott, has been replaced by Dee Johnson. Hmm…

Breaking Bad is Hard To Do (But So Worth It)

Oh god, I didn’t mean to start watching so late…

It’s not that I just discovered Breaking Bad. It’s really not that. After all, there is really no way to escape hearing about it, especially when one is in the entertainment industry. But I have to confess it, now, at the beginning: I just finished season one.

We all have our reasons for putting off watching TV shows we want to eventually get to someday, when we have All The Time Ever To Just Watch TV (read: never).   There are plenty of excuses – I’m sure you have your own version of the “I’m too busy to watch every show I want to watch, it’s already the second season, and anyway I hate cliffhangers because when I was a child the monstrous suspense of The X-Files scarred me for life, so I don’t think I can handle it.”  Whatever your less-nerdy version of that is, substitute here.

For those of us who really love television, before watching even an episode of a show there must be careful consideration of the future. After all, picking up a show is a bit like a new relationship: you think about it constantly, speculate almost non-stop about what might happen next to anyone who will listen, and you hope it will never end.

And great shows, like Breaking Bad, are for me the television equivalent of meeting a six-foot-two ruggedly handsome Australian man who reads Kafka and plays the violin. I don’t ever want to leave them.

I don’t ever want to leave you!

And then the pants fly up in the air, and I’m hooked (I’m talking about Breaking Bad again, not Russell Crowe’s musical doppelganger). From the first shot of the pilot – throw out those oft-watched seasons two and three of The West Wing. I could probably write the scripts from memory anyway!

Here’s the bad news:  I’m rapidly losing ground.

And there is nowhere I can go where people are not taking about Breaking Bad! My friend’s going away party featured predominantly an entire circle of people who are dying to talk about the show. Oh no. I’m That Girl. I’m That Girl that will stop you from talking about Breaking Bad, even though it’s the only thing you have in common with the guy you just met, because I refuse to have the future of the show spoiled for me.  That’s the measure of the deep and abiding love I have for television.

Here’s another ugly confession: I hate thinking of all the millions of people in the world who know so much about Walter and Jesse and Skyler than I do. In fact, I just hate them. I hate everyone who has watched seasons 2-4 of Breaking Bad. I probably hate you!

I don’t hate you. You were smarter than me, and jumped on the bandwagon in an appropriate fashion. Just PLEASE, I beg you, on behalf of those slower than you, just don’t, don’t, don’t tell me what happens next. 

“The Fien Print” on CBS’s Upcoming PARTNERS

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: CBS’ ‘Partners’ – by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch: You know that show that aired on FOX in the ’90s about the two friends who are architects and co-dependents? That show that was created by the guy who used to work on “Will & Grace”? That show that was also called “Partners”? Well, this show is nothing like that. Except for the ways it is. Which you won’t recognize anyway. Because nobody watched that “Partners.”

Quick Response: “Will & Grace” creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, masters of exploiting the really, really obvious differences between gay folks and straight folks for very, very broad multi-cam laughs are back with what might be their most autobiographical show to date. It’s also possibly their broadest show to date, which is saying a lot. I’m not really comfortable judging “Partners” solely off its pilot, which is aggressively unfunny, but is also over-invested in establishing a premise that isn’t nearly complicated enough to require this much set up…

The premise is repeated over and over and over again, underlined at every opportunity. I got it. And I wasn’t all that amused. But because of the belaboring, I don’t know how stories are going to be told in subsequent episodes, so I’m going to have to watch again, against my better judgment. The flaw in the structure of the pilot is that at least in the first 20 minutes, Krumholtz and Urie don’t really have all that much chemistry, or at least their characters don’t. I’d have sacrificed the repetition in the pilot for just one or two effective illustrations of why these guys are friends and one or two positive examples of their friendship at work. It’s the kind of thing that could have taken place through their work at the architecture firm, except that the profession isn’t even an afterthought in the pilot.

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And people complain that TVWriter™ is harsh! DF, you’re our kinda guy.

Whatie and Her Mother Watch Animal Practice

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for animals. I’ve been looking forward to Animal Practice since I first heard it was coming. I didn’t need to know much: it’s set in a veterinary office, and one of the main characters is a monkey. As far as I was concerned, you could put a big “SOLD” sign on it before I even watched it.

Well, I suppose I could have been jealous. This is an idea that I should have come up with and written. Why didn’t I? I really don’t know. In retrospect, the idea of a show set in a vet’s office is so obvious. A vet could easily house a comedy, or a serious medical drama, or even a dramedy. Maybe that’s why I’m not jealous. I may not have thought of it first, but there are at least a hundred different possible spins to the setting, so I can do my own another day.

But, for now, I just want to watch the monkey.

Animal Practice the series hasn’t premiered yet, but you can already watch the pilot episode. Overjoyed, I watched it. Then, I told my mom about it, and she watched it, too.

Personally, I was totally thrilled with it. The monkey did it for me. Yeah, I’m easy. Just dangle a monkey and I’m yours for life.

The cameo of the peacock helped, too. I also adored the hamsters riding turtles.

As for things like characterization, plot, and humor, well, I was satisfied. I thought the way (some of) the characters fought to get that dog his surgery was both heartwarming and inspiring. I felt that the story was really fresh, too – as in, I can’t recall another show using that plot or anything reasonably similar. Sure, most of the human characters didn’t really grab me right off, but I didn’t have any particular major objections. I figured they would grow on me as I learned more about them.

My mom, on the other hand, was disappointed. She also liked the monkey, but that’s about all she liked. She hated all but one of the human characters. She thought the vet guy was both unbelievable and shallow. She thought the assistant guy was crass and shallow. She was put off by the short female assistant’s, ah, blunt way of expressing herself. I told her she might warm up to them as the show progressed and the characters developed, and she agreed that might be true. However, more damagingly, she felt that the show relied entirely too heavily on sex for any semblance of humor. She did not enjoy the sideline about the assistant male’s girlfriend problems. She really hated the way the vet guy talked about getting laid. She wasn’t particularly impressed by the romantic issues between the lead characters, either. In short, this show was not the show she wanted.

She generally feels that most modern sitcoms aren’t funny any more. She does have a solid point: the best comedy comes from characters acting true to their natures in ways that happen to be funny given the circumstances. Many modern sitcoms don’t really measure up to that simple standard.

Well, she feels that Animal Practice didn’t meet that criteria, and for that reason, she was not impressed with the pilot episode. She will give it a second shot, mostly on account of the monkey. But she’s not expecting much.

It’s strange how we saw the same show and got such completely different things out of it.

Best television monkey picture ever