Weekly Roundup is a feature posted each weekend on I Wonder if You Wonder. It gives me a chance to react to the week’s industry news and to provide some quick thoughts about the films and TV shows I’ve been watching. (Plus it’ll give you some idea of the sheer amount of stuff I watch!) Let’s dive right in.
In light of the absurd length of this week’s article, two songs to enjoy while you read: Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam’s ’“The Wind,” from Monday’s season finale of How I Met Your Mother, and the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow,” which was played as part of a salute to departing SNL cast member Kristen Wiig at the end of Saturday’s season finale.
In this week’s article: Some heartbreaking news about my favorite TV show, a look at several more TV finales (and the seasons that led up to them), and a few words about SNL, its past, and its future.
Cannes: The Cannes Film Festival is up and running, with the competition continuing until next Sunday, when the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or will be announced. I’ll have much more on the festival in this space next week.
Blade Runner Sequel: Some more exiting news from the world of Ridley Scott, as original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher has agreed to return for Scott’s planned sequel. The film – which will apparently be set much farther into the future than the original Blade Runner – will be Scott’s second consecutive film that explores the mythology of his early sci-fi classics, after this summer’s Prometheus (which was inspired by the mystery of the Space Jockey in Alien).
30 Rock Bowing Out: It’s official: Next year’s seventh season of 30 Rock will be its last. A not unexpected development, but still difficult for the many fans of Tina Fey’s otherworldly comedy stylings.
New Cougar Town Showrunner: There will be new leadership at Cougar Town when it moves to TBS next year, as show creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel are stepping back into an advisory role in order to concentrate on other projects. According to Lawrence’s twitter, the decision was mutual and amicable, and Lawrence and Biegel will continue to contribute to Cougar Town when they have free time.
New Community Showrunners (sigh): In not so mutual and amicable news, Community creator/showrunner/sitcom savant/TV auteur Dan Harmon will not be returning to the show in the fall, with former Just Shoot Me and Happy Endings writers David Guarascio and Moses Port tapped to take over as co-showrunners for the show’s fourth season. In what was a display of abject cowardice, Sony Pictures Television (the production company that makes Community) leaked the news of Harmon’s departure late on Friday night in a blatant attempt to avoid what will be (and what has already been) a vociferous fan and media backlash. In this type of situation, NBC also have blood on their hands; they have all of the leverage, and if they had wanted Harmon to remain in charge, that’s exactly what would have happened. A few hours after the news broke, Harmon took the time to explain his side of the story on his personal Tumblr; needless to say, he’s not pleased.
Technically, Harmon will remain with the show as a “Consulting Producer,” but in general that sort of title is complete and utter bullshit; it results from a clause included in contracts that ensures that the original creator of the show retains some small financial stake in its success, but doesn’t entail any real creative input or control over the show’s creative direction. (In his Tumblr post, Harmon explicitly states that he’s never even going to come into the office.) Some will blame this development on the increasingly public rift between Harmon and Chevy Chase, but the reality is that a) such creative and personal differences are not uncommon on television series, which require long and pressure-filled hours of their cast and crew (just take a look at the trainwreck that was Desperate Housewives, for crying out loud), and b) the creative differences between Harmon and Sony, which has always wanted a more accessible style of comedy from Community, were far more significant.
NBC and Sony’s decision to replace Harmon is a puzzling one, as critic Tim Goodman writes in an excellent piece for the Hollywood Reporter. (Excellent mostly because it agrees completely with my position on the matter.) It’s extremely unlikely that Community will continue beyond the 13-episode order that NBC gave it for next season, so there seems to be little benefit to such a major shake-up, and Harmon’s dismissal is likely to alienate a large portion of Community’s rabid fanbase – the exact type of people that NBC execs were hoping would follow the show to its horrific new Friday night timeslot in the fall.
I’ll be writing much more about Harmon and Community in the days and weeks ahead, but until then, check out the reaction to Harmon’s dismissal on Twitter. It’s a fascinating look inside contemporary fandom, which is increasingly well-educated about the behind-the-scenes side of the business, and it actually led to Harmon’s name trending worldwide on Twitter for the better part of 12 hours on Friday night/Saturday morning, which is just stunning given that he’s TV writer who is not well-known outside of Hollywood. And also check out the reaction from the cast and writers of Community; if you’re a fan of the show, as I am, it’ll ease your heartbreak a little bit. And finally, take a look at the first article about Community that I wrote for this site. It’s one of my favorites, and it’ll give you a decent idea of why Harmon is so integral to Community‘s creative success.
Viewings & Reactions (Finale Edition):
(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
Once Upon a Time Finale: The freshman season of ABC/Disney fairytale series Once Upon a Time came to a conclusion last week, with the magical fairytale world finally beginning to collide with the magic-less real world. While the show’s pilot and its finale were both excellent, the overall quality of the series seemed to vary greatly, with the real-world storylines centered on Jennifer Morrison’s character tending to be far more interesting than their fairytale land counterparts. Interestingly, the show’s flashback structure, in which real-world storylines are augmented by flashbacks to the characters’ lives before they were stranded in a world without magic, is nearly identical to the flashback structure utilized in the first three seasons of Lost, the show on which Once Upon a Time creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz worked previously. Eventually, Lost discovered that it had to mix things up in order to keep the show interesting, and I suspect that Once Upon a Time will have to do the same before too long.
How I Met Your Mother Finale: With this past Monday’s season finale, HIMYM (pronounced ‘him-yim’ by true fans of the show, obv) continued its excruciatingly slow built towards the moment when Ted (Josh Radnor) finally meets the mother in question. After a couple of seasons of suspect quality, I saw this year as something of a return to form for the show, as creators/showrunners Craig Thomas and Carter Bays made an effort to feature more storylines that tied into the show’s overall mythology. (I once heard HIMYM described as what would happen if the creators of Lost decided to make a sitcom, and while it’s not as true now as it was in the show’s first few seasons, the comparison is still apt.) Now that we know that Robin (Cobie Smulders) will be the one to marry Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), the identity of the mother is the only major mystery left to reveal, and Thomas and Bays have been dropping hints in recent interviews that the show may in fact continue beyond the point when Ted meets his bride-to-be, which means that it could plausibly happen at any time over the next couple of seasons. And to the show’s credit, all of the elements have been put in place for that fateful event: We now know why, in the pilot, future Ted began the story he’s telling his kids with the circumstances of how he met Robin (it’s been established that Ted meets the mother at Barney and Robin’s wedding, so the moment when Ted meets Robin obviously sets that in motion), we know that it’s raining at Robin and Barney’s wedding (HIMYM mythology has long associated the mother with her yellow umbrella, and it seems likely that it will be used as a way to identify her when the big reveal finally comes), and Ted’s plan to run off with Victoria (Ashley Williams) would appear to be the last big romantic gesture that he has to get out of his system before he’s ready to settle down.
So who’s the mother, then? Well, it’s impossible to say for certain… but my theory is that her name is Carly. (I’m hardly alone in this theory. Google it and you’ll understand.)
Smash Finale: Smash’s first season came to a conclusion on Monday, and it was a (ahem) smashing success from beginning to end. American Idol alum Katharine McPhee has come into her own as talented ingenue Karen Cartwright, and as I’ve noted in previous articles, Smash manages to successfully combine dramatic elements with musical and comedic elements far more successfully that the last couple of seasons of Glee. The show continues to struggle in the ratings, and the presence of a new showrunner next season could mean major changes (geez, NBC… can’t you let at least one great showrunner stay with their show?), but for now Smash should be viewed as an overwhelming creative success.
90210 Finale: This season was the first of the post-Rebecca Sinclair era, as the former Gilmore Girls and Buffy writer left the series after two seasons as its showrunner, and the drop in quality was noticeable. At their best, 90210 and other primetime soaps are able to explore outrageous material while remaining fully aware of their own absurdity, with a wink to the audience and tongue firmly planted in cheek. This sort of campiness allows a show to take massive creative leaps without having to worry about whether or not its storylines are realistic or believable – witness the deliciously deranged ‘Evil Adrianna’ (Jessica Lowndes) storyline from 90210’s third season, or the ongoing saga of pyromaniac Emily Valentine (Christine Elise) on the original 90210 in the early 90s. After two years of largely well-written and entertaining stories, however, 90210 now appears to be in the midst of an identity crisis, as the show’s new writers seem unwilling to go all the way with some of their more outlandish story ideas. This season, for instance, Annie (Shenae Grimes) seemed poised to become a high-class prostitute, but the show backed away and largely dropped the storyline around the midpoint of the season. The reality is that Annie is just about the dullest character on the show, and she would have benefitted from some scandalous material, which in turn would have benefitted from her previously established prim-and-proper image. But, alas, 90210 chickened out. If you’re going introduce that kind of thing as a possibility, go for it, I say! No one remembers the original 90210 for its dramatic subtleties… they remember it for David Silver (Brian Austin Green) cheating on Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) with Babyface’s manager in the back of a limousine and Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) getting hooked on cocaine. And while you’re at it, 90210, drop some of the extraneous recurring characters; you already have a large cast, and the audience doesn’t care about Liam’s (Matt Lanter) duplicitous girlfriend (Arielle Kebbel) or Ivy’s (Gillian Zinser) endless string of helpless boyfriends.
Suburgatory Finale: Suburgatory might be my favorite surprise show of the season. It has been consistently funny since its first episode, and that success is no fluke: the show was created by former Hung and Parks and Recreation writer Emily Kapnek, and its writing staff includes standout Community alums Andrew Guest and Emily Cutler. (Cutler is credited in Community lore as the first person who really figured out how to write for Britta [Gillian Jacobs]. And oh yeah, she also wrote the show’s legendary first paintball episode, “Modern Warfare,” while Guest wrote the nearly as legendary “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.”) The cast of Suburgatory reads like a comedy all-star team (Alan Tudyk of Firefly, Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell of SNL, Cheryl Hines of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Allie Grant of Weeds…), but the real standout has been relative newcomer Jane Levy, whose only previous professional acting gig was as a recurring character in the first season of Shameless. Both Levy’s dramatic acting and comedic timing are spot-on, and I would bet money that she becomes a huge star. She may already on her way, in fact, given Suburgatory’s success and her starring role in the upcoming Evil Dead remake. (Her character apparently replaces Bruce Campbell’s iconic Ash.) Keep an eye out for her.
30 Rock Finale: I’ve written several blurbs about 30 Rock in previous editions of the Weekly Roundup, so to summarize: This season of 30 Rock was its strongest in several years, and I applaud the show for recognizing the patterns it had fallen into and subverting them in various humorous ways. I look forward to its seventh and final season in the fall.
Community Finale: Too many thoughts, too little time.
Lost in all of the Dan Harmon/Sony news is the fact that Community signed off its third season on Thursday night with three new episodes, including a lovingly rendered tribute to old school video games, an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist story, and a finale that mirrored the show’s pilot.
About that finale. In an article about Dan Harmon’s dismissal, Variety TV critic Andrew Wallenstein writes that Harmon himself may have been the only person surprised by his termination. I’m guessing that Wallenstein didn’t actually watch the show very closely, though, because Community’s season finale made it plainly obvious that Harmon knew that his future with Community was very much in doubt. Jeff Winger’s (Joel McHale) speech at the end of the episode, in which he encourages people to “stop thinking about what’s good for you and start thinking about what’s good for someone else,” serves as a counterpoint to the ambivalence and moral relativism that he expresses in a similar speech at the end of the show’s pilot. Furthermore, it completes the evolution of the Jeff Winger character from heartless, self-centered jerk to legitimate “good guy.” As Abed (Danny Pudi) notes in the episode “Anthropology 101”, it was Jeff’s status as an egotistical anti-hero that differentiated the show from most other sitcoms. (To quote Abed: “TV makes sense. It has logic, structure, rules. And likeable leading men. We have you.”) With this speech and his conversion into a likeable leading man, Jeff’s heroic journey is over. And just to drive the point home, the episode ends with the complete version of Community’s theme song, “At Least It Was Here” by indie rock band The 88, being incorporated into the show itself for the first and only time. If that isn’t a series finale, I don’t know what is… and as far as I’m concerned, the show’s final 13 Harmon-less episodes don’t count.
Saturday Night Live Finale: After the news of Dan Harmon’s dismissal, I didn’t think I could take any more bad TV news, but then came SNL and the unsurprising revelation that show MVP Kristen Wiig is moving on to greener pastures. Wiig’s comedic talents are virtually limitless, and it’s clear that she’s one of a small handful of performers that could plausibly lay claim to the title of Best Cast Member in SNL History, alongside the likes of John Belushi, Dana Carvey, and Will Ferrell. With the success of Bridesmaids, however, the opportunities available to her in Hollywood are too great to pass up, and while it’s sad that she’s leaving, I can’t wait to see her return to the show as host.
Lost in the hullabaloo surrounding Wiig’s departure is the fact that Saturday’s show may have been the last for Andy Samberg and Jason Sudeikis as well. Samberg seemed to hint at his imminent departure in the night’s Digital Short, a sequel to “Lazy Sunday,” the first such video to go viral online; the final lyric of “Lazy Sunday 2” is Samberg and sidekick Chris Parnell rapping “That’s how it began/And that’s how Imma finish it.” There were no such signals from Sudeikis, but it’s believed that his contract also expired at the end of the season. (My personal guess is that Samberg leaves but Sudeikis stays, at least through the election in November; he’s SNL’s resident Mitt Romney.)
Together, Wiig, Samberg, Sudeikis, and Bill Hader formed arguably the greatest incoming class of “Featured Players” in the history of SNL. (Look it up… they were all “Featured Players” together in the 2005-06 season. Crazeballs, huh?) Between them, they’re largely responsible for reviving the show after a significant post-Will Ferrell downturn, with Sudeikis and Hader being valuable team players, Wiig serving as the de facto team captain, and Samberg and The Lonely Island’s digital shorts re-igniting the show’s cultural relevance in an online environment that is tailor-made for their type of two-to-three-minute videos. And to their credit, the members of The Lonely Island (two of whom, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, have already left their full-time roles at SNL) recognized the potential of the world that they were entering; after “Lazy Sunday” was pulled from YouTube for copyright infringement, Samberg, Taccone, and Schaffer lobbied Hulu to make the Digital Shorts available to viewers worldwide, the only such videos on the U.S.-centric site.
So with the certain departure of Wiig, the likely departure of Samberg, and the possible departure of Sudeikis, SNL faces arguably its most devastating cast exodus since the mid-1990s. The good news, though, is that the cupboard is not completely bare. Veteran cast members Hader and Fred Armisen are expected to continue on the show, and relative newcomers Nasim Pedrad, Vanessa Bayer, Taren Killam, and Jay Pharoah have all shown significant promise at times. (Pharoah, though, seems like the classic case of a ludicrously talented African-American performer that SNL and Lorne Michaels have no idea how to utilize properly, along the lines of Garrett Morris and Chris Rock. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him leave the show over the summer.) While there may be a bit of a down period for the show in the immediate future, its history shows that these things tend to be cyclical, and eventually they’ll find the new cast members and develop the fresh ideas that will lead to the next great era in SNL history. I can’t wait.
Previewing features and articles I’m working on for I Wonder if You Wonder, some of which will be posted this week, some in weeks ahead, and others that’ll be abandoned due to laziness or frustration. (Hey, at least I’m up front about it.)
- At least one article about Dan Harmon and TV auteurism.
- A Community edition of Listmania. (Can you tell that I’m kind of pissed about this Dan Harmon news? And that I’m kind of obsessed with the show? My review of Suburgatory consisted mostly of me talking about Community, for crying out loud.)
- Blah, blah, Alien, blah.