PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Featured: Top of Home Page

Superpowers, nerds and rich people: A few of fall's TV trends

Maureen Ryan
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

A few thoughts on trends and trendlets for fall TV.

Network TV: The poor relation of cable?

If I had to describe the overall feeling of many critics who'd viewed the new crop of fall TV shows, the word that springs to mind is "blah." Sure, lots of tube scribblers are excited about ABC's Pushing Daisies, the CW's Reaper and a few other shows, but at the Television Critics Association press tour in July, only a handful of shows enjoyed any kind of critical buzz.

And while many critics were plowing through a relatively lackluster bunch of network pilots over the summer, cable TV was rolling out compelling new shows such as Damages, Mad Men, Saving Grace, Burn Notice and Flight of the Conchords.

So what gives? Perhaps it was just a lackluster development season for the networks. It happens. But let's hope it doesn't happen all that often in the future, or cable's going to start leaving the networks in the dust when it comes time for critics to compile their annual Top 10 lists.

It's nerdtastic!

For years, if geeks were depicted on TV at all, they were usually briefly glimpsed just before they were rudely shoved into high-school lockers (Freaks and Geeks, the series that was produced eight years ago by the film world's hottest writer/director, Judd Apatow, was a rare exception to the trend).

But now nerdy, slackerish, stammering dudes are hot commodities -- at this summer's Comic-Con convention, you could barely swing a light saber without hitting the star of a fall show. More than a few fall characters owe a debt to Seth Cohen, the gangly O.C. high schooler who made liking obscure bands and graphic novels cool.

The CW's Reaper features a socially inept guy who gets an unwelcome gig with the Devil, and that network's new comedy, Aliens in America, features a nerd duo -- a Wisconsin teen and a lovably square Muslim exchange student.

CBS' Big Bang Theory has two supersmart meganerds living in an apartment next door to a hot woman (think Three's Company but with particle physics), and NBC's Chuck tells the story of a videogame-addicted nerd who works at a big-box electronics store and becomes an unwilling government agent.

The rich are different -- they have more TV shows devoted to them.

CBS' Cane and ABC's Dirty Sexy Money are glamorous soaps about ultra-wealthy families, while the CW's Gossip Girl chronicles the lives of rich private-school kids in Manhattan. And ABC, which seems to have a special fondness for millionaires, chronicles the lives of top executives in Big Shots.

You have to wonder, in this wealth-obsessed TV environment, would a working-class comedy such as Roseanne have made it past the pilot stage?

The networks embrace risky ideas -- sort of.

Trying to shake up its rather stuffy image, CBS commissioned Viva Laughlin, an American remake of the singing-and-dancing British series Viva Blackpool.

In recent years, ABC took chances on shows such as Ugly Betty and Lost and was rewarded handsomely; this year its offbeat offering is the fanciful Pushing Daisies. ABC also went in a risky direction by making a half-hour comedy about the thick-browed Cavemen from the Geico ads; so far the jury remains out on whether the Cro-Magnons are funny for longer than 30 seconds.

And that's the catch: Networks are to be lauded for taking chances, but viewers are unforgiving when the execution of an edgy idea lacks focus and courage. Some (or all) of these risky TV shows could end up crashing and burning.

Supernatural doings and characters with superpowers are all the rage.

Call it the Heroes syndrome -- like the leads of that hit show, lots of characters this fall have spooky powers, strange histories or superabilities.

On NBC's Journeyman, a journalist travels back and forth through time; the lead character on Pushing Daisies can bring dead people back to life; the Bionic Woman on NBC is, well, bionic; Reaper features frequent visits from the Devil; on Chuck, massive quantities of spy information are downloaded into the title character's brain; and the brooding investigator on CBS' Moonlight is a vampire.

Reality TV is on the wane -- on the networks, anyway.

For years now, scores of TV writers have loudly hoped for the demise of reality TV. They may be getting their wish. Reality TV, which made its first big network splash with CBS' Survivor seven years ago, increasingly appears to be the province of cable TV. Sure, there are some returning reality franchises on the fall network schedules, and a few new unscripted shows on the horizon. By and large, though, the reality takeover of TV that was feared a few years ago most certainly isn't happening.

And there may be even less of envelope-pushing reality TV on the networks in the future, given the controversy that has erupted over the highest-profile new reality offering for fall, CBS' Kid Nation, a show with the tagline "40 children, 40 days, no adults."

Serials get crunched.

After the crash and burn of many serialized dramas and thrillers last fall (Kidnapped, Day Break, The Nine), the networks are avoiding them like the plague this year. Lighter tones are the norm. But that's strange -- both Heroes and Jericho, two heavily serialized dramas, were hits with viewers (so much so in Jericho's case that it was revived after a cancellation by an energetic fan campaign). Perhaps it wasn't necessarily serialization or dark themes that were the problem. Hmm.

Foreigners are taking U.S. acting jobs. Even worse: They're talented.

Here's just a partial list of shows with English, Scottish or Australian actors in leading roles: Viva Laughlin, Journeyman, Life, Bionic Woman, Moonlight and Pushing Daisies.

English actor Hugh Laurie, who plays an American doctor on House, gave his opinion on the trend at a press event in July: "I can only assume that we're cheap."

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.