Summertime, and the TV living is easy
Summer TV preview, 'The Idol,' 'Always Sunny,' 'The Crowded Room,' and more
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as we discuss the nudity rider…
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Summer TV lovin’
The three-month stretch from the beginning of March through the end of May continues to be the busiest, craziest part of the TV calendar. It’s the Emmy-bait season, where every network, cable channel, and streamer places their most prestigious shows right before the eligibility window closes, so they’ll be fresh in the minds of voters once the nomination process begins. The problem is that, because everybody does this, it’s become harder and harder for anything new to break through. Did you know, for instance, that Jennifer Garner starred in an Apple TV+ miniseries based on the best-selling novel The Last Thing He Told Me? I had honestly forgotten, and it’s my job to keep track of this stuff.
Now that the Emmy window has closed, things will be a bit calmer for the next few months. Which isn’t to say there won’t be interesting shows coming up soon. In fact, I was able to easily pick 20 shows I’m excited, or at least curious, to see this summer. And that was without including stuff I’ve previously really enjoyed like How to With John Wilson and Dark Winds. That list features a lot of returning shows, and/or revivals like Justified: City Primeval, but there’s also wholly original stuff I can’t wait to watch, like Boots Riley’s new Amazon show. It’s also interesting how many actors turn up multiple times on the list, like Timothy Olyphant and Zazie Beetz.
After recapping both Barry and Succession this spring, I’m not sure if I’ll be doing any full-length recaps this summer. (If The Bear wasn’t a binge release again, I might have recapped that.) But perhaps I will use this space — or Substack’s chat feature — to do regular, brief check-ins on stuff like Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, What We Do in the Shadows, Reservation Dogs, Only Murders in the Building, and the aforementioned City Primeval. We’ll play it by ear.
Odds and/or ends
My colleagues at Rolling Stone have already offered plenty of coverage of Sam Levinson’s new HBO show, The Idol, which he co-created with The Weeknd and Reza Fahim. Back in March, Cheyenne Roundtree offered an in-depth look at behind-the-scenes turmoil on the series, and how, as one source put it, it “went from satire to the thing it was satirizing.” And because HBO did not provide screeners, the reviewing job was left to David Fear, who saw the world premiere at Cannes and did not like it at all. Out of curiosity and a sense of professional obligation, I watched the first episode earlier this week, and… I will not be watching it again. There is just enough that’s good — at times even great — in Levinson’s Euphoria that I will sit through the self-indulgent, and at times downright gross, aspects of that show. There was barely any of the good stuff in The Idol, and life is short. Moving on…
HBO canceled Perry Mason earlier this week. On the one hand, that’s sad, because the second season was really entertaining, and fixed nearly every problem that was present in the first. On the other hand, you can’t exactly complain about viewers not coming back, given how frustrating and counter-productive that first season was. As always, TV fails to learn the lessons of Surf Dracula:
Meanwhile, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia returned for its sixteenth season on Wednesday night. Think about that for a moment. Sixteen seasons, for a live-action comedy, and one that at times is still capable of being as funny as it was way back in its second or third. There have been some bumps in the later years, and I never got around to finishing the Ireland trip from Season Fifteen. But I laughed a bunch at the six episodes I’ve seen so far in the new season. How is it still this good, when most comedies are running on fumes by their fourth or fifth seasons? I talked with Rob McElhenney about this back in 2019, and it largely comes down to the Gang being so awful. As on Seinfeld, there’s no need for hugging or learning, and the push into sentimentality can be tough on a comedy after a few years. More importantly, though, a lot of comedies just feel sad after a while, because what’s funny to watch characters do at one age becomes pathetic as they get older. But the Gang was always pathetic, and the fact that they’re still acting this way in their 40s in many ways makes the joke funnier than when they were in their 20s. I’m glad it’s back.
The Crowded Room can’t keep a secret
Finally, my review of Apple’s The Crowded Room turned into an opportunity to vent against restrictive Do Not Reveal requests for critics. But that was only so I could then point out the counter-productive nature of so many mystery box shows like this. Tom Holland and Amanda Seyfried do some excellent work once the miniseries finally gets around to acknowledging its very obvious twist, but it’s such a drag to get there. When TV shows try to outsmart the audience in this day and age, they usually wind up just outsmarting themselves. Think about the Dexter season with Edward James Olmos, or the impenetrable mess that Westworld became because the creators were annoyed that viewers immediately sniffed out the first season’s big surprise.
I’m not saying that plot twists should be completely abandoned. But audiences have been so conditioned to look at TV shows as puzzles to be solved that it’s almost impossible to shock them. Compare something like the Olmos twist to what happened in this season’s third episode of Succession. That was a shocking development, but only in terms of when it happened, rather than what happened. And it was done in a way that allowed the audience to fully engage with what the characters were feeling, rather than inviting them to simply drop their jaws and say, “No way!”
In short, thank you for coming to my TED talk.
That’s it for this week? What did everybody else think?