What I’m Watching/Ditching in the Fall 2014 TV Season

Ah, fall. As with pumpkin spiced everything, this glorious season ushers in a whole new crop of television shows. Here are the television shows I will be tuning into in the coming months and the ones I’ll be tossing out the window. Click to see my previous lists of fall 2012, 2007, and 2006. #consistency.

What I’m Watching:

Play It Again, Dick – New series debuted 9/16 on CW Seed

The first of the series I’ll be watching this fall won’t even air on television. Play It Again, Dick, the latest chapter in the Veronica Mars saga, debuted on CW Seed, The CW’s home of original digital series. The webseries is a meta-explosion, starring Ryan Hansen playing a heightened version of himself, attempting to make a Veronica Mars spinoff based on his character, the lovable douche Dick Casablanca. Ryan Hansen as Ryan Hansen attempts to wrangle in the ‘ol gang of Veronica Mars actors that will be playing themselves and/or their characters. Or both. Even though the movie was ultimately disappointing in its extreme fan service, the tone of this meta-romp is perfectly pleasurable.

Survivor: San Juan del SurBlood vs. Water – Returning 9/24 on CBS

Survivor brings back the successful Blood vs. Water twist in its 29th installment. Expectations were low when the twistreturning players competing with their loved oneswas introduced last fall, but the season surpassed fan concern when it delivered new dynamic layers of gameplay infused with powerful raw emotion. But can lightning strike twice with a cast of all-new players? By all accounts, Survivor is an individual game, so the casting of brand new pairs will be crucial for the season’s success. Unfortunately, we’ll have to deal with the disgusting and despicable John Rocker, the racist and homophobic former MLB player. There are a few bright spots in this cast, however, and I’m rooting for the married couple of Val and Jeremy, the police officer and firefighter.

How to Get Away with Murder – New series debuting 9/25 on ABC

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t watch the white-hot Scandal. I know. I KNOW. I aim to rectify this lack of Shondaland in my life by tuning in to How to Get Away with Murder, executive-produced by Shonda Rhimes and helmed by Viola Davis as a merciless criminal-law professor. The show promises to be sexy, suspenseful, and full of vengeful and attractive young co-eds. Sign me up for this crash-course in pulpy primetime soapiness!

The Legend of Korra – Returning 10/4 on Nick.com

Poor, poor Korra. The titular character of The Legend of Korra spent this past summer watching her third season be wildly mistreated by Nickelodeon. Book Three: Change was originally planned to air this fall, but for whatever reason, the channel hastily released it during the summer instead. Nickelodeon began promotion only one week prior to the season premiere and subsequently burned off two episodes every Friday night. Ratings were understandably weak, and Nickelodeon pulled the final five episodes from the airwaves and released them exclusively online.

What a damn shame. Change was nothing short of REMARKABLE: a near-perfect blend of breathtaking action, intelligent social consciousness, and nuanced character development. (You can stream Book Three online here.) Among the many praiseworthy aspects of the season include the deepening friendship between Asami and Korra outside of their relationships to their former boyfriend, Mako (Alison Bechdel would be beaming), the masterful character work and backstory of Lin Beifong and her sister Suyin, and a quartet of baddies who were all at once terrifying and awe-inspiring.

Thankfully, we don’t need to wait very long for Book Four: Balance, the series’ final season, to witness how Korra’s world will achieve a rightful balance in the aftermath of Zaheer’s destruction.

The Flash – New series debuting 10/7 on The CW

In a television season stuffed with comic book shows (the returning Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the new Gotham and Constantine), what makes The Flash stand out? This superhero series knows it’s here to have fun. I couldn’t help being won over by the exceedingly charming Grant Gustin as Barry Allen. With a strong identity claimed in its appealing earnestness and sincerity, I’m willing to give The Flash a shot.

American Horror Story: Freak Show – Debuting 10/8 on FX

How can you watch this trailer and NOT be overwhelmingly giddy with excitement and anticipation? Kathy Bates as a bearded lady. Angela Bassett as a three-breasted woman. Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins. Patti LaBelle as who cares, she’s Patti LaBelle. All this, PLUS a killer clown?! I mean, come on.

Creator Ryan Murphy has stated that the tone of American Horror Story: Freak Show, set in Jupiter, Florida in 1952, will be closer to that of the troubling darkness of Asylum, rather than the campy gloss of Coven. This direction is particularly promising, as Coven was a hot mess (not in the fun way). And we mustn’t forget that Freak Show will be Jessica Lange’s swan song with American Horror Story. As with every clusterf*ck season of this anthology series, I can’t wait to have my every expectation turned on its twisty head.

The Affair – New series debuting 10/12 on Showtime

The story of an illicit love affair told from the dueling perspectives of the man (Dominic West) and woman (Ruth Wilson). This intriguing examination also explores their respective arduous marriages to Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson. This Rashomon-esque storytelling structure is especially intriguing. Layers upon layers upon rich character drama. Life, and narrative, is all about perspective.

What I’m Ditching:

Utopia – New series debuted 9/7 on FOX

Utopia has lost more than half of its viewers since its first airing. And I am one of those viewers. While the concept of this reality series is fascinating (What happens when 15 people attempt to create a functioning society in isolation?), Utopia‘s execution has been simply atrocious, thanks to some poor casting decisions.

With no competitions to offer inherent drama, it seems the producers cast extremely volatile personalities to more than make up for conflict. Each and every conflict blew up into uncomfortable shouting matches. In just the first three days, we were privy to medical evacuations due to alcohol poisoning, threats of physical violence, and several instances of misogyny (offhanded sexist remarks, unwanted passes, a man yelling at a woman to “shut the f*ck up”). While the final moments of the premiere episode offered up a glimmer of hope, I vowed never to returned to the unpleasant and unwatchable Utopia.

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The Legend of Korra: Worthy of the ‘Avatar’ Name

The Legend of Korra, the hotly-anticipated sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, set seventy years after Avatar Aang faced off against Phoenix King Ozai and Princess Azula, successfully bridges a devotion to the now-familiar world of Avatar: The Last Airbender with a fresh and decidedly different feel.

Happily, The Legend of Korra builds on top of the masterful and harmonious blend of juxtapositions created by Avatar: The Last Airbender, which appealed to children and adults alike: nuanced characters and rich thematic threads of morality share space alongside wildly goofy humor, hard-hitting martial-arts action sequences are set against gorgeous animation, the spiritual dances with the fantastical, and ridiculously insane animal hybrids (I’m looking at you, Naga, you beautiful polar bear dog, you!) populate the landscape. Korra, like its predecessor, is all at once thrilling, funny, pensive, and simply awesome.

Many elements of the new series are polar opposites of the original, establishing a different energy from the get-go. Whereas Avatar: The Last Airbender focused on young male protagonist, Avatar Aang, the new series centers on a teenage girl, Avatar Korra. High fives all around for a kick-ass female protagonist! While Aang was a reluctant hero and an advocate of non-violence, Korra is determined, overconfident, and quick to action. The original series followed Aang’s travels around the World of Avatar, while Korra takes place in one new location, the modernized Republic City. Imagine a 1920s New York or Shanghai with touches of steampunk style. Even the music mixes in a new, bold jazzy flavor with the more traditional instrumentation to emphasize the big city feel.

The first two episodes of The Legend of Korra, “Welcome to Republic City” and “A Leaf in the Wind,” swiftly catch us up on the years since Sozin’s Comet (you will be missed, Sokka), while providing the narrative and thematic groundwork for the new series. With an older protagonist at the helm, these stories and themes are discernibly more mature. Korra has grown up flat-out loving her bending abilities (“Bending is the coolest thing in the world!”) and comes into conflict with an anti-bending movement, a group known as the Equalists, led by the mysterious Amon. This class-warfare struggle will certainly be interesting to watch develop and unfold, especially in the context of a program airing on Nickelodeon. This thematic setup also provides the foundations for Korra’s arc and room for character development, as she is one who operates at a certain level of privilege. We also witness Korra struggle with her lack of a spiritual side, as seen through her airbending training with Master Tenzin (voiced by J.K. Simmons). And an awesome side note, Tenzin’s daughter, Jinora, is voiced by Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men‘s Sally Draper.

Along for the ride are Mako and Bolin, two brothers who Korra meets at a pro-bending tournament, a competitive arena sport where teams battle each other using bending prowess. A love-triangle has already begun to blossom among the three characters, with the second ending hinting a star-crossed lovers. So how long will it be before shirts are printed with Team Mako and Team Bolin?

The Legend of Korra is a worthy addition to the magnificent Avatar canon and I look forward to embarking on this new journey with Avatar Korra. Here’s to more wacky animal hybrids!

#90sAreAllThat: Nickelodeon Nostalgia

I am not ashamed to admit that I grew up on Nickelodeon television of the 1990s. Heck, one of my shining moments as an elementary school kid was getting my name printed in Nickelodeon Magazine, as an Honorable Mention in one of their contests. Zelda the Dog even made a comment on my entry! Thus, you can imagine my excitement when earlier this year, TeenNick announced a new retro programming block of 90s-era television, to air weeknights 12-2am beginning July 25th.

I ask my fellow 90s Nickelodeon compatriots, when adult life has beaten us down, haven’t we all longed for the days when we could cozy up on the big, orange SNICK couch? Or just stay home during the summers with our pal, Stick Stickly? Or gather around the campfire and listen to ghost stories told by the kids of Are You Afraid of the Dark? I, of course, answered “yes” to these queries and thus fit squarely in this escapist programming’s target audience.

After the premiere broadcast, I did what anyone in my generation would do, and went straight to the social networks.

No sooner had I tweeted the above, than two minutes later, Kevin McHale, who portrays Artie on Glee and is also around my age, tweeted this to his over 400k followers:

Upon first glance, his tweet may look like a nonsensical string of letters, but I instantly picked up on TLC’s musical stylings of the All That theme song, along with hundreds of others who retweeted Kevin’s sentiment and shared in his, for lack of a better term, glee. [Side note: I own “All That: The Album.” Brandy. Coolio. Aaliyah. Those were the good ‘ol days…] Thanks to advocates like McHale and other media outlets, the nostalgic aim of TeenNick’s programming was successful in getting its message across.

The premiere of “The 90s Are All That” debuted with four Nickelodeon classics: All That, Kenan and Kel, Clarissa Explains It All, and Doug. Fittingly, Kenan “What Up With That?” Thompson, arguably the most recognizable and successful of the 90s Nickelodeon actors, kicked off the night with this phat intro:

This generation of 20-somethings and 30-somethings is quite a nostalgic and devoted bunch. The trailer for the newly-released film, Winnie the Pooh, uses Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” to great effect. The music and imagery tugs at the heartstrings and exudes a yearning for childhood memories. “Oh simple thing, where have you gone? I’m getting old and I need something to rely on…” Those lyrics cut right to the chase. I had more than a few friends online share this trailer based on the nostalgia factor alone, all intentions of seeing the actual film aside.

Ah, nostalgia. What a powerful tool. Nostalgia is in. Retro is cool. And this cool factor dictates media consumption and popular culture. Our generation seems so fixated on snark and cynicism, that this escapist yearning for a more innocent time makes perfect sense.

When combined with grassroots campaigning and social networking, the magnitude of the influence of nostalgia skyrockets. The internet is a breeding ground for nostalgia junkies. It has become easier than ever to engage with others who share the same memories and to unearth the nuggets of our past together. We actively seek out this communal experience.

Remember the Facebook movement to bring Betty White to SNL? We go back to the cool factor. How many of those who jumped on the Betty White bandwagon do you think actually had fond memories of Blanche, Rose, et al? And yet, it is so cool to support the Golden Girls vet. Remembering good times past, simply makes us happy. It seems as though Emmy voters are still riding on a nostalgia high, nominating Betty for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Hot in Cleveland this year.

Keith Dawkins, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Nicktoons and TeenNick, embraces a similar movement. In a live Q&A from The Washington Post, the day “The 90s Are All That” launched, Dawkins acknowledged the power and influence of social networking and the sweeping momentum of nostalgia:

We’ve always thought that these classic Nick shows still had value to an audience…but the ground swell of fans giving voice this on places like Facebook and Twitter really moved mountains. To hear millions of people saying that they want the Nickelodeon of their childhood back is a powerful statement. It’s one that we just had to react to.

TeenNick has done an excellent job in marketing the “The 90s Are All That” campaign, launching a website (which by the way, is streaming the full episodes), Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter presence. The night of the premiere, the hashtag #90sAreAllThat, displayed on-screen, became the top trending topic worldwide, joined by “Teen Nick,” “All That,” and “Kenan & Kel.” The generation who grew up on these series came out in droves online and with their tv sets. According to Vulture, the nostalgic programming block was a ratings smash:

Among viewers 18-34, the demo Teen Nick is targeting in late-night, The 90s attracted ratings roughly 850 percent higher than the channel’s previous time period average in the midnight to 2 a.m. block.

Now comes the question on everybody’s mind. Does the programming hold up, some 15-20 years later? The short answer is yes and no.

Kenan and Kel’s mugging and over-acting are amusing, yet border on grating. The wacky antics and crazy hi-jinks of such iconic All That sketches as “The Loud Librarian” and “Goodburger” may have been hilarious to my seven-year-old self, but are unsurprisingly loud, brash, and one-note today. While the plot and narratives of Clarissa Explains It All may be a bit uninspired, the innocent interactions and friendship between Sam and Clarissa are a welcomed sight.

Doug, somewhat unsurprisingly, holds up the best of the four series. After all these years, we can still empathize with the nasally new kid who so desperately wants to bag a “neematoad” in order to fit in and be accepted. I remember watching Doug as a child, hiding underneath my pillow, unable to watch the titular character go through an embarrassing situation. My heart went out to him then, as it does now. The simple pathos of Doug holds true to the core.

But does it matter if the shows have aged? Of course not. In approaching “The 90s Are All That,” I knew that this experience would never match up to my fond childhood memories. That’s to be expected. But boy did it bring a smile to my face to see Lori Beth Denberg’s “Vital Information,” Patti Mayonnaise, Ferguson Darling, and more, grace my television set once again.

TeenNick has stated that more shows from the 90s will appear later this year, with voting for content taking place online. It’s a smart move in engaging this audience of consumers. No doubt there are viewers who sill stop at nothing to have their voice heard on the interwebs: “WHERE’S MY HEY DUDE?!?,” “I WANT THE ADVENTURES OF PETE & PETE!!!,” “MOAR RUGRATS PLZZZ!!!!!”

I’m hoping to see Roundhouse and KABLAM! hit the airwaves myself. Oh, and also that spring cleaning episode of Rocko’s Modern Life.

R-E-C-Y-C-L-E, recycle! C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E, conserve! Don’t you P-O-L-L-U-T-E, pollute the rivers, sky, or sea, or else you’re gonna get what you deserve!

What about you? Any nostalgic childhood programming you’d love to revisit?