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Ask Mo: Answering questions about 'The Event,' 'Fringe,' 'Spartacus,' 'The Walking Dead,' 'Lost' and more!

by Maureen Ryan, posted Nov 19th 2010 1:15PM
Welcome to the third installment of Ask Mo. Thank you for your great questions! Sorry if I didn't get to your query, but I'll be doing another edition of Ask Mo in early December, and I'll try to tackle more questions then. Of course, feel free to leave new queries in comments below as well. (Previous editions of Ask Mo are here and here.)

Tardispilot: Do 'The Event's' sagging ratings mean we've seen the end of 'Lost' clones, or will there be more next season?

Lyle: Why are all these 'Lost' clones failing to captivate audiences ('The Event,' 'FlashForward,' etc)? In your opinion, what made 'Lost' stand out and what are these other shows missing?

Tree: What is your take on 'The Event'? I'm trying to decide if I want to continue investing time in it. I like the premise, but I don't feel an emotional connection to it like I did to 'Lost.'... Should I continue watching?

Mo says: I'll try to take on these questions one by one. I think we'll continue to see networks trying out shows with supernatural flavoring, although there appear to be fewer of those kinds of pilots in the pipeline, thanks to the rocky receptions of shows like 'The Event,' 'FlashForward,' 'Invasion,' etc. I don't think the networks will stop making those kinds of shows, but I think they will probably keep missing the point regarding what 'Lost' actually was when it started.

When 'Lost' debuted, it wasn't necessarily all about the complicated mythology. The biggest problem with 'Lost' clones, of course, is that the networks are playing it too safe with their programming: They want things to fit into easily digested formulas (even though safe, formulaic shows have generally failed this season). And my impression is that the networks think the 'Lost' formula involves a complicated, whizbang mythology, when really, approaching the creation of a show with that mentality is putting the cart before the horse.

Just one of the problems with the latter-day 'Lost' clones is that they're imitating what 'Lost' became, not what it was in its first season or two. Sure, 'Lost' had mysteries aplenty from the start, but the show was, especially in season 1, very easy to follow or catch up with. In each episode, there was usually some island excitement, but the main course was a flashback that gave viewers a meaty, interesting character story.

Of course, the show evolved into something much more complex and dense as it went along, and that's part of the reason we kept up with it. But that complicated mythology was really a bigger feature in later seasons, not early ones. These 'Lost'-come-latelys are often front-loading their shows with mythology, which can be off-putting to casual viewers. Perhaps more importantly, they're generally failing in the one arena in which 'Lost' was frequently masterful -- character. Even during some of 'Lost's' more muddled stretches, we always cared about or were intrigued many of the characters, because the show usually did such a fabulous job of creating indelible, odd or unpredictable people.

'The Event' hasn't done that. I liked the crossword-puzzle aspect of the show, and I would have been happy had it simply stuck with solving supernatural riddles and leading us through a solidly made "aliens among us" story. But the show is layering in character stories and flashbacks that are frankly hamhanded and boring, and those scenes slow down the action while failing to get me invested in the people. I'm interested when Jason Ritter and Laura Innes and Zeljko Ivanek are on the screen. Most of the other characters, especially Leila and the President's wife, put me to sleep. So yeah, if you've given up on 'The Event,' you're not the only one. And now that NBC is pulling the show until February, I have a feeling it's going to be a one-season wonder.

Speaking of that ...

Dxferris: What's your favorite one-season wonder? A show that only lasted one season, or was only good for one season (not necessarily the first)?

Mo says: 'The Middleman.' I really, really miss that show and its genius mixture of wit, whimsy, heart and sci-fi pandemonium.

Also up there at the top of my list is 'Firefly.' The true heartbreak of that show was that I felt even more drawn in by the second half of the season, and just when it was getting really good, blammo. Canceled. Argh.

Other candidates: 'Freaks and Geeks,' 'My So-Called Life,' 'The Tick' (the live-action version only lasted nine episodes, sigh), and of course, the recently canceled AMC drama 'Rubicon.'

But I want to throw this question to the peanut gallery: Readers, weigh in with your favorite one-season wonders.

Speaking of 'Rubicon'...

Giles Bruce: I recorded the first (and final) season of 'Rubicon' on DVR. Is this, or any cancelled show, still worth watching - or is it just too frustrating knowing that it doesn't have a proper ending?

Mo says: Of all the one-season wonders out there, this one actually wraps up in a manner that doesn't leave multiple story points hanging out there unanswered. Personally, I think 'Rubicon' is worth a DVR marathon, with these caveats in mind: The first three episodes move slowly and you may be thinking, "Is anything ever going to happen?" Be patient, things do happen, but more importantly, the show creates a group of characters that I was very sad to leave behind. It has a terrific cast, a great sense of atmosphere and it will leave you looking at New York in a whole new way. Whether you think the series wraps up in a satisfying way is a matter of taste, but the show doesn't leave you hanging, from a plot perspective. And I thought episodes 4-12 were a tremendously entertaining and thought-provoking ride.

As to whether other one-season wonders or cancelled shows are worth watching, it's really your call, obviously, but to deny yourself a show you've heard is terrific just because it's not airing new episodes is like denying yourself a good meal because the restaurant is shutting down next week. Why not experience the pleasure if you still can?

Bondfool: What is the most effective way to get a network to renew one's favorite show if it's struggling in the ratings? (Aside from watching live, of course)?

Mo says: Well, getting all the Nielsen families you know to tune in would be swell. Otherwise, yes, try to watch the episodes live ['Terriers'], and if they are on your DVR, try to watch them soon, not several days after they air ['Terriers']. You can also watch them online, download them from iTunes; networks monitor that kind of traffic too ['Terriers']. They also keep track of online buzz on Web sites, Twitter, Facebook and the like, and they also keep track of emails sent to the network [user@fxnetworks.com]. So keep gabbing about your favorite show all over the place, in hopes that it will help build momentum and get other people interested in the struggling program ['Terriers'].

Did you notice the subliminal message in the paragraph above? It might have been too subtle, so I'll spell it out. 'Terriers' fans, please help the show, and if you're not watching the FX drama starring Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, check it out (I wrote more about why you might want to do so here). Right now, no other show is more deserving of this kind of assistance. Its renewal is a (very long) long shot. But it's terrific and the kind of show that fan campaign might just be able to help.

Jon8: I just got finished watching [the fifth episode of] 'Luther.' In the last ad break before the episode's climactic events, BBC America showed the promo for next week's season finale -- which completely spoiled the story I was watching (even while fast-forwarding). I fear this is a rhetorical question, but I'll ask anyway: Exactly how stupid are they?

Mo says: Oh dear. That is very, very bad. Please, networks, do not do this. Do not give away spoilers for future episodes in promo spots! Especially when they air before the current episode is even over! That is very bad and it drives people away from your programming.

Kimmer: I need your expertise. I'm planning a Thanksgiving marathon over the long weekend. I'm torn between a couple shows. 'Fringe' and 'Spartacus.' I've got 'Fringe' season 2 DVDs and season 3 recorded on my DVR. I'd love it if you could suggest the must-see eps for S2, as I'm sure there are a few duds. But I also have 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand.' Whaddaya think? Should I give up on deciding and park it on my couch and watch both? If I only come up for bread and water and bathroom breaks, I'm sure I could do it.

Mo says: I would say that Kimmer is asking me a cruel and impossible question, but later in her note, she called the 'Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan' podcast "awesomesauce on toast," so I'm inclined to characterize her query as incisive and thoughtful.

I say try to do both. If you're really pressed for time, you can squeeze a 'Spartacus' marathon into two bload-soaked days (Ryan McGee did!). If you can cram in some quality 'Fringe' time as well, I'd say watch these Season 2 episodes: Episode 1 ('A New Day in the Old Town'), 4 ('Momentum Deferred'), 8 ('August'), 10 ('Grey Matters'), and then the entire season from episode 14 ('The Bishop Revival') onward. Episodes 16-23 are the bomb, as the kids say. And season 3 has been very spiffy too, as I wrote here and here.

If you're gladatorially inclined, just make sure you're caught up with 'Spartacus' by Jan. 21, which is when the prequel season begins on Starz. Key art from that installment of the saga is at right and the new promo clip for the season is here.

Valerie: I've been watching a recent episode of 'CSI' (because of Katee Sackhoff), and it got me thinking about the way characters evolve. I was fond of Greg in early seasons, as the punk-rock, somewhat [of a] rebel scientist, and disappointed that he became just a generic crime show guy with barely any quirks. Or Ted on 'How I Met Your Mother,' who went from earnest, lovable dweeb to pretentious douche over the course of the seasons.

Sometimes it goes the other way too: Fiona from 'Burn Notice,' went from irritating and nagging to awesome, and Morgan on 'Chuck' started as a caricature and became a lovable nerd... . Any thoughts on character arcs you loved or hated?

Mo says: Oh, great question, and I'm sure there are a dozen examples I could think of if I had more time (as it is, I'm trying to get ready for a family vacation -- I'll be gone Nov. 22-26, but a few robo-posts will go up that week, including a 'Talking TV' podcast with special guest Alan Sepinwall on Monday, so don't miss that!).

OK, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, character arcs we loved or hated. One of the most profound transformations of a character I've ever seen took place on 'The Shield.' When the series began, Shane Vendrell came off as a bigoted, swaggering, good ol' boy cop. By the end of the seventh season, thanks to Walton Goggins' amazing acting and the show's outstanding writing, his story moved me to tears more than once (same goes for 'The Shield's' Lem). That's why I love television -- the stories that are told can, over time, paint incredibly compelling pictures of human beings and the arcs their lives.

As for arcs that weren't satisfying, did Kate on 'Lost' even have one? What was really sad about that character is that she started out as an interesting tomboy, a woman who could handle herself in a crisis but who had some dark things in her past. But over the course of six seasons, the writers lost interest in her. They either didn't know what to do with her or used her as story spackle -- they'd use her to fill in while they got other, more interesting events ready to go. I won't even discuss the love triangle, which was profoundly Not Interesting to me.

Let me be clear: I had no problem with Evangeline Lilly's acting -- given great material, she generally did well with it. But by the end of the show's run, the writers were clearly more interested in the stories of other (male) characters and everything Kate-related felt like a lame afterthought. It was a shame, given how much potential the character had in the early seasons.

Just as a side note, I'd argue that Ted on 'HIMYM' isn't always douchey. If anything, the problem has been the inconsistency about how the show depicts him -- some weeks, he's a charming guy with a good heart, other times, yeah, he's the douchemaster. Sometimes the laughs or stories derived from these dueling sides of Ted work, but in the long run, it leads to a situation where we never know what we're going to get with him and thus perhaps we get less invested in him over time. Having said that, Ted seems to be avoiding massive douchiness lately, for the most part. So far, I'm cool with season 6 Ted.

Teresa: I'm interested by some of the stuff I'm reading on 'The Walking Dead' but have to admit - I hate horror movies! I do not like being scared. So, is the AMC show like a TV version of all those scary movies? [Does it do the whole] "We're going to drag out the tension and music as long as possible and then have something jump out at you"? Thanks!

Mo says: I'm right there with you, Teresa. I'm a horror wuss. As I wrote in my review, the first episode of 'The Walking Dead' had almost more tension and scariness than I could handle. It was very well made, but if the entire series had had that much tension (and yes, there are a number of zombies popping out in scary ways in the pilot), I would have bailed. I'm happy to say, though, that subsequent episodes dialed down the wall-to-wall tension, though there are still occasionally scary situations and obviously some gore.

But as I wrote here, the show is evolving into much more of a character drama about what people do in crisis situations. I'd say watch the first three episodes -- if you get to the end of episode 3 and it's still too much for you, then feel free to bail. But you might find, that, after that tense, well-crafted first episode, a fairly restrained drama that serves up the scares in well-timed, relatively infrequent doses.

Cathy O'Grady: I know you are a 'Doctor Who' fan, so what did you make of 'Sherlock' from 'Doctor Who' head honcho Steven Moffatt? I thought 'Sherlock' took the essence of Holmes and brought him up to date really well, despite the fact that a non-police officer investigating crimes is improbable.

As with the Doctor, the key is in the casting, and I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was outstanding [as Holmes], as was the always reliable Martin Freeman [as Watson]. There was some discussion here [in the UK] over the way Holmes' thought processes were shown onscreen, with texts and emails popping up. For me it worked well and kept the pace up.

Mo here: I liked 'Sherlock' a lot, and didn't mind the on-screen info, though if the show had done that any more of that than it did, it would have started to seem obtrusive and annoying. But we are in total agreement -- the 'Sherlock' cast was terrific, and if the second episode wasn't quite up to the standards of the first and third, they were all still good fun and had zippy, generally well-conceived plots.

This question gives me the opportunity to let US residents know that all three installments of Moffat's 'Sherlock' are available online here until Dec. 7 at the Masterpiece Mystery site. My original review of 'Sherlock' is here, if you want a little more of my take on the show.

Kathy: On 'Supernatural,' Bobby was able to blackmail Crowley to get his soul back by threatening to burn Crowley's bones. Why can't Sam and Dean do that, too?

Mo here: Great question, and I've wondered that too. Why not put Crowley's bones somewhere safe and threaten to burn them in order to get out from under his thumb? I have no inside knowledge on this score, but I hope the show addresses that very reasonable question, and doesn't leave Crowley's bones, like the adorable Anti-Christ, just hanging out there as an unanswered question. [UPDATE: Clearly I'm having a memory failure here. Commenters are saying Crowley took his bones back at the end of that episode. Sorry for the brainfail! I still wonder where the Anti-Christ is though.]

Chris Piers: AMC's 'The Walking Dead' is pulling in about 5 million viewers an episode, while lots of NBC dramas and sitcoms are much lower, [around] the 3 million mark. How can the networks remain profitable? Are they irrelevant compared to cable, or do they still reach more homes? I have always appreciated that we had some "free" TV stations out there, but is that outdated? In the UK [consumers pay for] a TV license. Will we one day have to pay for our TV? And if so, will we ever have any say on which channels we want to pay for?

Mo here: As to the last question, not if the cable networks have anything to do with it, you won't. There have been various efforts to make cable TV an "a la carte" experience, but that battle has been going on for a long time and I don't see it gaining much traction at present.

As to paying for a TV license as they do in the UK, no, I don't think that will happen. But I think the days of "free" TV are already fading away, to a large extent. Media companies are desperate to be the pipeline into residential homes, hence the frequent pitches for bundled services (phone, internet, TV, etc). They want to provide as many services as they can to individual consumers, who are signing up for these kinds of packages in order to get an overall better deal (whether those deals are, in fact, any cheaper over time is a debate for another day). In any event, it's far more common than it was even 20 years ago for people to pay for their TV, and the industry is relying on those revenues more than ever. In fact, there are frequent battles between broadcast networks, who want cable companies to pay for their channels, and cable companies, who don't want to start paying for NBC, Fox, ABC and CBS. But as the media universe changes, broadcast networks want the kind of revenues that cable networks get from subscribers. Hence the bill you pay to watch TV will probably continue to go up.

As for the profit situation, obviously NBC isn't making as much money as it used to, but, from what I understand, broadcast networks generally charge more than cable networks for ads. And it's a volume business -- NBC has dozens of shows on the air, while AMC only has a half-dozen or so. I'm not anything like an expert on these matters, but the reach that the broadcast networks have is, I suppose, attractive to advertisers trying to connect with certain kinds of consumers. But part of the reason media companies like to own both cable and network channels is because cable has been very good at reaching niche audiences and affluent consumers, and as you note, the ratings for top cable shows are often comparable or better than what the broadcast networks are pulling in. All things considered, I'm betting that certain advertisers are far more interested in 'The Walking Dead's' audience than they are in the audience for 'Outsourced.'

Bern: I spent some time catching up with both 'Fringe' and 'Cougar Town' and now they are two of my favorite shows. ('Fringe' took some time but 'Cougar Town's' episodes were like popping M&M's.) Are there other shows out there that might be a few seasons in but are worth watching on DVD and getting [caught up to the point] where I can watch them as they air?
Mo here: Great question, and I'd also like to throw this to readers: What current shows are worth catching up with? I'd say that any show past its fifth season might be a bit too intimidating to catch up with on a casual basis, but there are shows with fewer seasons under their belts that might be worth trying to marathon-watch.

Here are some of my recommendations: 'Parks and Recreation' (skip the first, six-episode season. It's not good); 'Spartacus'; 'Boardwalk Empire'; 'Ashes to Ashes' (skip the first season); 'Archer'; 'Breaking Bad'; 'Justified'; 'The Good Wife'; 'Modern Family.' There are many, many more shows airing right now that I like, but these selections, which will likely end up on my 2010 Top 10 list or on my Almost Made the Top 10 list, should be enough to get you started.

As for shows with longer histories that are currently still on the air, I'd say you can't go wrong with 'Friday Night Lights,' 'Mad Men,' and the 'Doctor Who' seasons that began airing in the US in 2006. And if you do have the time, of course I have to shill for one of my favorites, 'Supernatural.' From 'Family Matters' onward in season 1, it really started to get good (with, of course, a few missteps along the way, but the improvement just within the course of the first season is impressive).

How about you, readers -- what shows that are currently on the air (or returning next year) should Bern catch up with?

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Love The event . www.danceenterprise.com , www.danceenterprise.co.uk

April 24 2011 at 12:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

one season wonders - Journeyman! The write in campaign for that show was huge. It seemed like Mo got tired of everyone yacking about it here.

November 26 2010 at 9:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

all you idiots who watched lost, how could you get so wrapped up in that shit..its like when dallas did thier dream sequence year,when bobby was killed or wasnt...toal crap

November 22 2010 at 10:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Kidnapped is my favorite one-season wonder. I ha to buy the DVD when it was cancelled early because I just had to know how it ended. great cast, especially the always underrated Delroy Lindo, great story, great everything. The Event is just... meh.

November 22 2010 at 9:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A forgotten one-season gem I thought showed great writing and acting was the modern combat series "Over There."

I also loved the "Life On Mars" premise and ensemble, but hated the hokey last episode conclusion. I was told the British version was better.

November 22 2010 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did you ever follow "Caprica"? I know some called it snoozeworthy, too "soap"ish, but do you think because it was so different from "Battlestar" was the reason it didn't succeed? For what seemed to be a potential flagship show for a network called SyFy, why would they pull it so quickly, in the face of endless faux ghost fare and now..wrestling?!?

November 22 2010 at 6:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did you ever follow "Caprica"? I know some have called it snoozeworthy, too "soap"ish, but do u think because it was so different from "Battlestar" is why it didn't succeed? Still, why do you think SyFy/NBC pulled what should've been a flagship show so quickly, esp. endless w/ little more than faux ghost fare and now...wrestling?

November 22 2010 at 6:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been watching The Event since Episode 1 and find myself liking it less each week. The flashbacks annoy me, they never get to a point before they jump onto another "what now" scene.

Thomas taking over from their leader, his Mother Sofia (Sonia) and going so far as to threaten to kill her without the other aliens who are on the outside stopping him is ludicris. They have no stability or consistency and I am very close to giving them up for Monday Night Football.

I am still in a "LOST" state of suspension so I have tried watching these new shows that might fill that gap but I now believe there is never going to be a show that will fill the emptiness that LOST has left.

Only if the writers of LOST were to get together and create a new Sci-Fi show would that calibre of writing and creativity and imagination bring us close to another show like LOST. The Event isn't even in the same universe.

November 22 2010 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Best one-season show ever: "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr" (1993-94) with Bruce Campbell.

November 22 2010 at 5:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And I hope you don't have to add Warren the Ape to the list of one season wonders.

November 22 2010 at 5:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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