As Felix wrote a couple of days ago, the first reviews of the fall season on US network television are already in and critics promising little for the weeks to come. But as Felix retorts:
Not every TV season can produce an outstanding, canonical series, and definitely not several. And the verdict on the overall evaluation of an AV series is not rendered at its beginning but its ending, just think about Lost or True Detective.
Well, that’s right, but also wrong (to some extent)! Let’s start with the latter.
Of course, a critical evaluation can be made before the very last episode glimmers on the screen. A very, very good ending does not necessarily indicate a very, very good series overall; it’s simply a good ending of a certainly good series in other ways as well. But Felix is also right, because criticizing network series for what they are (among others) – aesthetic products made for TV flow to “court advertisers and the widest audiences possible” (Deggans 2015) – sounds rather pitiable. And to cheer Empire while at the same time disparage Blood & Oil for its somehow old-fashioned soap opera style à la Dallas as part of TV’s “topsy-turvy logic” (Deggans 2015) seems quite haphazardly to me, at best. The somehow conflicting devotion of critics to contemporary TV melodrama (or, let’s say it as it is, prime time soap) is a topic of its own (cf. Lyons 2015). Maybe we will go on with that issue in a later series of essays?!
Anyway, the judgement that the current season somehow limps is not too far out. Let’s be honest, some of the shows’ narratives appear quite feeble. Minority Report, for example, is not really satisfying – at least not after the first two to four episodes. But that goes for this year’s none-TV series too. Amazon’s Hand of God or Netflix’/City TV’s online-television-hybrid Between both need some time to gain momentum. Especially Between struggles to find its way.
But if we take a closer look to AV series already under way, the phenomenon is anything but denoting for this fall season. How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, The Blacklist, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., to name but a few, they all needed some episodes to go gangbusters. How is that? They all started rather episodic for the first three, four (e.g. Murder) or nine (e.g. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) episodes before fully prolonging a season arc in order to establish a more thrilling narrative. Not to mention CBS’s The Good Wife that required more than a whole season to intensify its serial storytelling and more than three seasons (!) to come up with different audiovisual storytelling experiments to present a brilliant and complex storyworld around the life and love(s) of Alicia Florrick (wonderfully played by Julianna Margulies) and all the other adorable characters (such as Elsbeth Tascioni!!!).
In short, some of the recently premiered network series seem to be away from being, at least potentially, innovative. Quantico, Limitless or Blood & Oil ‘score’ with characters, topics, narratives and aesthetics we are very much familiar with. Patterns, it’s all about patterns! But, as one says in vernacular, don’t count your chickens before they hatch. There is a chance that some of these shows will come up with something special just as they have managed to overcome the obstacle of the first about nine episodes or so. The ‘back order principle’ seems to be rather outdated in the overbearing ‘piggyback-quality-blubber’ these days, but it also points out that sometimes we simply have to wait for something we will be attracted (or maybe even addicted) to …
Deggans, Eric. 2015. “5 TV Shows To Watch In An Otherwise Uninspiring Fall Season.” NPR 22.09. http://www.npr.org/2015/09/22/442284698/5-tv-shows-to-watch-in-an-otherwise-uninspiring-fall-season
Kirschbacher, Felix. 2015. “The early bird catches a small worm – Fall Season 2015.” Lost in TV. Überlegungen zur Fernsehserie 28.10. http://lost-in-tv.de/the-early-bird-catches-a-small-worm-fall-season-2015/#more-398
Lyons, Margarat. 2015. “How TV Fell Back in Love With Soaps.” Vulture 29.10. http://www.vulture.com/2015/10/primetime-soap-operas-are-back.html?mid=fb-share-vulture