By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal ®
TV shows must evolve. Stay in one place too long and the show will exasperate viewers (see How I Met Your Mother), change too much and viewers feel as if they’re tuning into a completely different show (see Heroes).
A look at how four shows that underwent big changes this season are faring:
Up All Night (Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC): It’s never a good sign when a show completely reinvents itself in its second season. I take it as an implicit confession. “Um you know all that stuff we did last year? It didn’t really work and we know it.” So Up All Night took away Ava’s (Maya Rudolph) talk show, put Chris (Will Arnett) back to work, had Reagan (Christina Applegate) become a stay-at-home mom and introduced the character of Reagan’s brother. None of the changes really stuck. I miss Ava and Reagan’s work environment (especially the dear, departed Missy) and Ava is stranded with no real reason for being on Up All Night except that she’s played by Maya Rudolph. (It’s a bit of a circular problem for the series since last season’s focus on Ava’s talk show stemmed from Rudolph’s Bridesmaid’s success). Now, all of Ava’s story lines are ungracefully wedged in. (Really, do we need to see Ava’s version of a haunted house? Maybe she and Sean Hayes can spin-off into their own show. ) Without Ava’s show, it’s hard to understand why Ava and Reagan are friends. But we can’t spend any more time talking about this because Up All Night will air two more episodes this fall before returning in the spring in yet another incarnation. This time the single camera comedy is changing to a multi-camera show (As a point of reference, New Girl is single camera, The Big Bang Theory is multi-camera).That means a live audience and a more limited, static stage (the days of Reagan and Chris taking walks with baby Ava outside are probably over). I wouldn’t be surprised if more things changed between now and then (the show is shutting down production to redo the stage). If you want my truly fearless prediction, I’m ready to double down that the show won’t come back at all. I adore Arnett and Applegate. As a parent of a toddler, this show is made for me. However, Up All Night has always had flashes of smart humor but it’s never quite come together. And I’m not convinced the third iteration will be the charm. I am trying to think of when a show reinvented itself and it worked and the only example I could come up with was when These Friends of Mine became Ellen after one season.
Once Upon a Time (Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC): The drama took a gamble when it blew its original premise away in the first season finale. Certainly it could have wrung a few more seasons out of everyone in Storybrooke not realizing they are actually fairytale characters. In the second season premiere, the show transported its two lead characters back to fairytale land. Now the show has three worlds – Storybrooke, the fairytale world that was and the fairytale world of the present. That’s a lot of different worlds for viewers to keep up with in 42 minutes. And it’s doubled the amount of special effects which I’ve always found problematic. The fairytale world looks like the characters are stuck in a video game. I now rate all special effects on a scale of 1 to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s boat scene in the Ringer series premiere (with obviously the Ringer scene being the worst.) On that scale, I would put the Once Upon a Time special effects at about a five. That combined with the idea that Jennifer Morrison can take a Clark Kent approach to looking younger (give her a pair of glasses and she’s 17 again!) often takes me out of the show. I’m nervous about the amount of characters the show continues to introduce – again it’s a lot for viewers to keep up with. But I really do appreciate that Once didn’t go the traditional route with its narrative. I love the introduction of Michael Raymond-James as Emma’s ex-boyfriend and Henry’s father. (In my world of denial, Raymond-James is on the show as part of an elaborate and belated Terriers crossover). And putting Emma and Snow together with the mutual mission of being able to return home is a great way to quickly bond mother and daughter. But in general my advice to the show would be the same my father used to give me when I was little and talking really fast – slow down. We don’t need to meet every possible fairytale character this year. Every episode does not have to take place in three worlds. Let’s leave something for season three.
Grey’s Anatomy (Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC): My favorite part of this whole season has been Cristina’s budding relationship with Mr. Feeny, I mean Dr. Thomas. Much like he did for Cory and Topanga, Dr. Thomas is full of sage wisdom for Cristina. He’s also softening her character and helping her realize she still has a lot to learn about being a doctor. Plus it just makes sense that Cristina would move on and leave Seattle Grace. I never truly believed Cristina and Owen as some grand star-crossed couple so I’m okay with them being apart. The biggest problem I see the show facing is what to do now. I’m fine with Cristina working and living far away but is that a sustainable model? My other big gripe with the season is the Arizona story line. I’m simply not believing that Arizona, an informed, educated doctor who has made a career out of making difficult medical decisions, would blame Callie. Yes I understand that she’s mad at what happened to her and yes Callie is the easiest person to take her anger out on but I’m still not buying it. It’s a perfectly believable reaction of someone who went through this level of trauma, but it’s not working for me. Perhaps it’s because the show spent so many seasons building Arizona up as this perpetually cheery character.
Glee (Thursdays at 9 p.m. on FOX): This fantasy version of New York City is a bit ridiculous. Suddenly Rachel’s waking up in the morning with hair extensions, full make up and false eyelashes. Everything that was grating about Rachel Berry has become exacerbated in New York. But that’s nothing compared to the Kurt storyline. I could go along with the fact that he gets a job at Vogue.com based on his charm and edgy style. But that Sarah Jessica Parker’s Isabelle Wright would confide in him? That one’s little hard to believe. And her fairy godmother act isn’t that interesting. I keep waiting for her to steal one of Kurt’s ideas and claim it as her own. Back at McKinley High, all the new students have edged out the adult characters. Sue Sylvester, who was a defining part of putting the show on the pop culture radar, has barely been seen this season. And Will has nothing to do. He’s to this season of Glee what Cindy and Jim Walsh were to 90210 once Brenda and Brandon graduated. Glee needs to find better, more relevant storylines for Mr. Schu and find a way to better balance its multiple characters and multiple locations.
How do you think Once, Glee, Grey’s and Up All Night are doing? What other shows do you think have undergone major changes this season and how do you think they’re doing? Talk about it below. On Thursday, I’ll have this week’s best quotes and familiar faces, so if you’ve heard a great quote or seen a familiar face email me and let me know about it.
I totally agree that Mr. Schu and Sue were a big part of what made Glee popular. Without them the show feels very different, and not in a good way. I wish the’d find a way to inject them back into the storyline in a meaningful way. Glee seems like it has lost its heart.
I passed along your take on these shows to my wife and some of her friends who watch and these shows and the near universal reply can be summed up by this response from one of them: “She’s pretty dead on I think… I still like the shows, but her points sure are valid.”
Last night’s Glee was a step in the right direction, right? Sue and Will were heavily featured. Sue’s snarky comments and one liners were oh-so-wrong and very funny and the show had “heart”. I really liked the episode.