No one has been a bigger critic of The CW and their bonehead decisions than me. Of course the freefalling ratings over the last season proved me right, but I felt no vindication since it only put my favorite show, Supernatural, in jeopardy of not having a home.
When I heard that The CW sold out their Sunday night programming to Media Rights Capital, an independent production company, I – like everyone else – took that to be a huge sign that this network was in serious trouble. Considering the shows announced catered to an 18-49 audience and didn’t feature the usual vapid teen fare that this network has been shoving down my throat (Thursday nights excluded), I decided to give it a try.
After watching the premieres of 4Real, In Harm’s Way, Valentine, and Easy Money, I was actually impressed. I didn’t go into these shows with any expectations so there was nothing for them to live up to, but I didn’t turn off the TV afterward wondering how I was going to get that part of my life back. I was entertained.
4Real is an interesting concept that’s effectively presented. This was the US network television debut. It previously aired on CTV in Canada and has been viewed by millions in other countries. A celebrity travels with host Sol Guy to a remote region of the world to meet local leaders who are influencing change under extreme circumstances. The show offers a bird's-eye view of issues affecting these areas, like eroding cultural identity and poverty. Their storytelling style is compelling, bringing out more than just a report of what these people do, but showing their impact on humanity.
In the first half hour, I thought Cameron Diaz acted a bit too moonbeamish, but that didn’t take away from the profile of the rural people in the Andes who are trying hard to get younger generations to embrace their roots. The more powerful message, though, came in the second half hour when K’naan, a rapper from Somalia and once a refugee, went to Kiberia in Kenya, the largest slum in East Africa. The profile is much different than watching faces of starving children on a Sally Struthers infomercial. We see huge depth in this community, their struggles against disease and poverty, and their dreams for the future. Sure, there is sadness to the story, but hope as well. I hope that 4Real earns a better time slot than 5pm, because it’s worthy of prime time.
In Harm’s Way
Not so worthy is In Harm’s Way. I didn’t see anything unique and thought I was watching the same filler I get on TLC when I need some background noise while surfing the 'net. I thought the story about the Alaskan coast guard could have been done in a half hour. However, it isn’t poorly produced and does offer some wonderful graphic shots. I liked seeing the wildlife in the Alaskan landscape, for example. This show is ideal for the 6pm hour and makes for decent filler.
Valentine surprised me. The premise was a turnoff for me, for I wasn’t sure how to take another fantasy premise of Greek Gods helping people find their soul mates. This has been done before, although I admit none of these shows are currently on the air. The matriarch of the family, Aphrodite, is over the top but she works out rather well as the leader of this bunch. There’s her son, the arrogant Eros, who’s the overdone opposite of his mother, thinking awesome sex is all that’s required. These two certainly stretch the male/female stereotypes to extremes. The other son is Hercules and there’s Phoebe, whose only purpose is to talk to a bird bath that sparkles and tells all. It doesn’t sound good on paper, but somehow this team sparks some interest on the screen.
The two lovers have clichéd story, best friends who were never brave enough with each other to go farther. It didn’t take all that much to pull them together, but the lack of their story gave us time for a decent introduction to the main characters and premise. Apparently the Internet is killing romance. Ha! I could have told them that. My favorite bit was the reaction of the romance author when asked to join their team. She thinks they are nuts, but nothing like getting off from a touch from Aphrodite to convince otherwise. I’m willing to give this show repeat viewings to see if this premise takes off or gets old.
Easy Money is fantastic and has earned a spot on my TiVo season pass. Considering this is produced by Diane Frolov, a writer for The Sopranos, it has a similar feel. This show is heavily character based and the characters and dialogue suck you in quickly. The premise is fantastic — a family of loan sharks complete with a quick loans storefront. The mother, played by Laurie Metcalf, is brilliant. She acts like a sweet Southern belle to clients, tactfully doing her job as the powerless lackey, while behind the scenes she’s the ruthless leader that assures they get paid no matter what. The main focus of this episode is her son in charge of collections, Morgan, played by Jeff Hephner. He’s brilliant and loathes the family business, despite the fact he does his job very well. His casual attitude as he takes a break from his lunch date to go beat a client to a pulp in the men’s room speaks volumes about this unusual character.
The other son, Cooper, is a doofus that mom has written off as useless. In this episode his girlfriend gives him skydiving as a gift and his reaction as he reluctantly goes through with it is hysterical. The daughter, Brandy, talks a bunch of nonsense and has a crappy husband whose only goal is to get rich quick. The customers are the real treat in this one, thus setting up never-ending possibilities for portrayals of lowlife jerks who were crazy enough to borrow money from these people. Throw in a pair of large Hawaiian brothers who are muscling in on the competition and we see this is a situation that can easily spiral out of control with fascinating results.
I laughed out loud when Morgan went to the house to find all the guys absorbed in a curling match on TV. My family is like that, so desperate for sports that they’ll watch anything. My other laugh out loud moment was when Morgan argued existentialism with the clerk at the book store while a long line of annoyed customers were behind them. Subtle touches like that are what defines well done shows and seem to be lacking in many new programs these days.
Quality Programming on The CW?
When I was done, I wondered what the hell this kind of show was doing on The CW. I thought I was watching HBO there for a second. I really hope Easy Money can find an audience, for quality programs like this belong on network television. Cable shouldn’t have all the fun. I’ve watched several of the new shows on network TV and have often compared them to this or that. This is the first new show this season that has stood out to me as unique and with a premise that can go places.
I did find it head-scratching that The CW ran promos for Gossip Girl, 90210, and Privileged during this program. I doubt many teens were tuning in. Smallville and Supernatural promos made far more sense (which aired also) and it also made me yearn for the return of Reaper. I know it sounds strange, expecting The CW to give me a few hours of quality shows instead of 13 hours of teenage fare, but such diversity certainly can’t harm this network right now. If anything, it will improve their rock bottom reputation and smooth over their current issues with affiliates.
The Media Rights Capital (MRC) experiment so far seems to be getting off to a great start. It offers something different for a modern day broadcast network, especially since we’re getting mostly copycat procedurals and shallow teen soaps. Considering what The CW Sunday nights drew last season, ratings couldn’t get lower. If anything, MRC offers some hope that we’ll go back to the days when higher ratings on a new night of network television come from better programming. It’s about time a network learned something from cable.