WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING TV

SO. The strike is over, and everybody’s throwing these numbers around: episodes in the can, shortened season orders, lengthened season orders, production start dates, air dates, lots of blank spaces where the answers will one day appear. But what does it actually mean? Here are a few tips on what to expect between now and June.


The Best News

Gossip Girl, the best show on television of all time, will be finishing out their original 22-episode order — which you may remember was the very first full-season order of the season — airing through June. Now, the quasi-finale was a great possible ending to the season, so really this is just good news on top of a stellar year, but it will be nice to see Queen B get her revenge on the UES sometime before we’ve all graduated high school.

I’m reminded of The OC‘s first year, when the baseball break was figured into the storylines, with a similarly powerful cliffhanger/break-point (Marissa’s OD in the TJ). Obviously this break wasn’t planned in the same way — it’s the usual 13-ep order that dramas get before they know whether they’re cleared for the “back nine,” or a full season — but it worked out brilliantly here, within the strike’s curtailment of the 07-08 season.

What To Expect: All of Manhattan crushed by a towering wrath so powerful and destructive that Cloverfield starts looking like a puppet show, from late spring to early summer; even more aggressive reruns until then.


Less Awe-Inspiring, But Still Very Exciting News

Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters, Grey’s Anatomy and House are all shooting 4-6 new episodes to finish out the season.

While the reaction to Grey’s has been a little bit more so-so every year — regardless of my continuing awe and love for the show’s writerly (almost literary) ambition and skill, and inability to shut up about how much of a Writing 101 inspiration it is and should be for every writer, even/especially if some fans are vocally unhappy — and House‘s overarching narratives are mostly not the point (although Olivia Wilde’s 13 and the return of wonderful Anne Dudek’s Amber are vitally exciting), it’s a little sadder to see uber-serials Betty and Brothers possibly forced to crimp their own style to accommodate the strike-shaped hole in their season orders.

Betty‘s creator has said he’s basically going to have to cram a planned 20+ episode arc into 17 episodes; this show is just hitting its stride, and while there’s a certain candy-sweet anticipation to seeing the narrative explode even more quickly than we’ve come to expect this season, think of all the nutty Amanda and Mark situations that will probably get squished down to deal with Betty’s incredibly boring love life, plus complications with the truly horrible sandwich man! (On the other hand, the second Betty’s romantic bullshit gets ironed out, maybe she can go back to being likeable, plucky, smart, morally directed, and confident again — you know, the reasons you loved the show to start with.)

Brothers & Sisters is such a sweeping multi-generational tale that its stories might not even be noticeably affected: the current Nora/Isaac storyline is pretty compelling, we already know where the Kitty/Robert stuff is heading, and I can’t keep all the blonde homewreckers apart anyway. I mean — though I am in love with the show — there are parts I tune out: I can barely pay enough attention to understand all the stuff with Tommy’s dead baby, for example. I literally could not tell you how that went down, even now. Maybe it’s personal, but I think the show does such a good job of combining and recombining all of its hard-hitting players, and resolving most character arcs in three or four episodes before moving them around into new dramatic landscapes, that almost any episode could serve amicably as a finale or premiere. (Meanwhile Eli Stone‘s well-hammered pilot — along with its heartfelt spirituality and post-Gore high-concept twist on legal drama — can only mean safety and good things for the sibling series from the B&S creator.)

The Upside: All four of the shows left some pretty crazy things on the table, including a couple of huge cliffhangers, that I’d really like to see resolved; even at the expense of drawing things out even longer and more awesomely.

What To Expect: A hurried but hopefully not rushed end to all four show’s overarching plotlines, perhaps a little-less-glossy dialogue than we’re used to, and perhaps a tighter, more satisfying finish for the more digressive shows out of the bunch.


The Post-Comedy Comedies

30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, My Name Is Earl and The Office all have lots of episodes coming. Earl and Office especially, because they got major orders at the beginning of the season, so it’s in their best interest to bring in as much content as quickly as they can before the season restarts.

If you asked me right now what’s going on with The Office, I wouldn’t be able to tell you, which is mostly down to the fact that something like half of the total season order was funneled into those grossly bloated and uninteresting double-episode nightmares. Angela’s cat died, and Jan continues to suck. I’m sure there’s more — Ryan’s a dick? Kelly’s on Darryl now? — but mostly, I don’t see any truly dangling storylines in this unfocused season that needed clearing up. On the other hand, it really still is a great show, so it’ll be fun to watch. Then, Earl ended right around the right time for a strike- or hiatus-break, coming to a seeming natural close (or reshuffle) of the quickly tiring jailhouse storyline, so we’ll enter the remainder with open hearts and hopefully back out in the fresh air.

30 Rock and Mother share the distinction of being at the very top of their very cult-inspiringly games, and the benefit of being a tad less serial-minded than the other two. The 30 Rock storylines, such as they are, deserve a wrap-up — too many loose ends for a Fall premiere — but the show’s crazy, wheeling momentum has always put in-jokey continuity over anything resembling drama or emotion. Which is, of course, a major reason 30 Rock is one of the best shows on TV, and we deserve the reward of new episodes, if nothing else.

On the other hand — and not that there’s anything bad about new episodes of TV’s best comedy property — but doesn’t it seem like this show always gets sandwiched between the Superbowl and this week’s American Idol Event? For a criminally underwatched show, it’s kind of a sucky-yet-believable circumstance that the single trumpet of “New 30 Rock!” should be outmatched by the full brass shouts of “New TV! The strike is over!”

Weeds is a Lionsgate property, so it would have been fine from a month ago, and it’s not scheduled to air its fourth season until this summer anyway. I’m dying to find out what happens next! I would love it if each season, Nancy climbed another rung: from street dealer to merchandiser to grower to — now, I think — trafficker… what will S5 bring, a run-in with Jack Bauer? A promotion to US Drug Czar?

Meanwhile, The New Adventures of Old Christine and Samantha Who? have a few episodes in the can — seven and three respectively — but only Samantha is even maybe expected to resume shooting for this season. Christine is better every season, and something I’ve only lately really fallen in love with, but a good seven-week run, especially right now while everybody else is gearing up, should give it momentum. (Does anybody else miss Jake In Progress as much as I do? No? How about Wendie Malick and John Stamos, we all love them, right? Man, I liked that show.)

Along with the totally awesome Notes From The Underbelly, which seems perfectly composed as an old-school “season replacement” type — and carries the off-hand edgy torch for beloved failures like Sons & Daughters and Significant Others more than any other show on the slate — to weather the storm, these are two of my favorite shows currently on air.

I’m happy to see them around at all, although I worry about Samantha after those last three episodes air — the strike could be a boon or could be a death knell, depending on how the show’s scheduled. It’s the difference between limbo and a plumy spot after Dancing With The Stars, which is such a weird concept I can’t even really deal with it. It’s great to see such a perfect mix of subtlety, hilariously nasty/simultaneously compassionate writing, acting talent and humor in one place. Arrested Development may have resurrected the half-hour comedy, but the true heirs of that renaissance have only become clear in the last year, and I hate to lose even one of these gorgeous kids.

What To Expect: Are you familiar with the metanarrative concept? Expect every single comedy to hit fast and hard with strike-related humor, labor-relations etiquette and explanations, and general exuberant relief. God, 30 Rock could get a whole season out of the strike… Actually, that’s exactly what’s going to happen: Liz and Jack will be going head-to-head over the writing staff’s demands. I feel it in my bones. I just hope it lasts more than an episode! I just excited myself!


Don’t Care A Bit

Smallville has four Supergirleriffic episodes in the can, and expects to shoot 3-5 more for the spring. I’m guessing that’s it for our favorite dewy-eyed young heterosexual. Bones has four episodes ready to go, and may or may not be producing more for the season. I know it’s a fan favorite, but I also know that the reasons have very little to do with writing quality, believable characterization, understandable comedic logic, or even human-like human beings. I also know that I watch it every week for the spastic woman who always offers everybody tea and whose inflections are guaranteed to be excrutiatingly bizarre every single time, and to see if any of the nerds are hot yet. It’s coming, I can feel it — my money’s on the little gay one. We’ll be tuning in, but I can’t help thinking that somehow having episodes airing throughout the strike would have really put the show’s weaknesses on shout, which would have been nice. TV being a craft, and the room for improvement being the biggest room of all, it would be nice to see Bones step up its game a little bit, going into 09.


We Care A Lot

Battlestar Galactica‘s on track for the first of the two last demiseasons in April, and will blast into production on the last seven episodes of the last-last of the season next year. Of several nightmarish rumor scenarios that have been offered over the last few months — from withholding the entire final season for 2009 to airing the thirteenth episode as a random “I guess this could work” finale, to chopping the season in even weirder places for the 2008 and 2009 airings, it looks like we’re finally in the clear to see the two halves of the season they were designed to be seen. As a huge fan and a pretty critical viewer, I couldn’t be more thrilled, but I’m guessing you knew that.

Lost, which I maintain gets better every season, has their whole thing mapped out, and the strike really messed with it: four seasons of sixteen perfectly mapped-out episodes. Which has already been broken down this year, when five episodes remain after tonight and six more may be shot — which is a total of fourteen, not sixteen, and implies more of that narrative squishing on the way.

Terminator has just a few episodes in the can, with the future of the show TBD. You know how much I believe in and love the show, so I’m honestly hoping they burn through the rest while the industry brings itself upright. This is the show that the strike gave birth to, and I sincerely hope it sticks around; if any show deserved to be awarded the title of Post-9/11 Buffy, it’s this show, and I think with time it’ll generate the madness that characterized and still characterizes the incredibly still-voracious Buffy area of fan worship.

Bionic Woman: No new episodes expected. Ever. But don’t cry! Even if that horrible news has shaken your faith in humanity, there’s still Chuck, Pushing Daisies, and my secret favorite Life, all of which will be back in the fall, and all of which couldn’t have broken at a better or more emotionally satisfying place.

What To Expect: Business as usual. Genre shows, no matter how great they are, all pull from the same pool: genre and action fans, two groups who are so used to being undernourished it sometimes takes an act of Congress to even get them to differentiate between good TV and bad TV. (Or at least this was true before Star Trek: Enterprise, Bionic, and the rise of Harry Knowles and his overcritical nerd-speak ilk… So now at least we have something to thank both of those entities for. If we have the internet to thank for anything, it’s the growing sophistication of genre fare.)

Other Dramas: Dirty Sexy Money, another quiet favorite with a lot of heart and some pretty stellar performances, will have its last three produced episodes “tweaked” into a season finale. Seems pretty likely that it’ll be back next fall, but a bummer, since the show has only been increasing its momentum with every episode. You can trust the staff to do the right thing, so I’m not as worried about how the narrative will suffer on this one.

What To Expect: D$M to turn up next fall in a field with a lot less of this pseudo-louche proto-S&TC crap we’ve been deluged with in the past few months. Once the Lipstick Mafia Big Shot bolus gets swallowed, and the movie finally reminds us that — although we all watched it — nobody really liked S&TC that much, D$M will be able to stand on its own, as a wonderful and witty story about the actualities of money and class.

…Um, storywise I have no idea, it’s been too long. Nate Fisher and his wife will switch roles as he becomes more and more grossed out by the Darlings, while she falls more and more in love with their human vulnerabilities. A détente between various wives and trannies will fall apart into even more violence. Karen will continue to rock your ass off.

And then there’s Friday Night Lights, which may or may not even exist as of today. I don’t know what to say about this show that I haven’t already said, but there aren’t any episodes in the can and there doesn’t seem to be a sustainable audience on NBC, no matter where they schedule it. The move to Friday night was a strong thought — the competition is low, the family quotient of the show is unstoppably high — but I don’t know that it matters, at this point. I’m not turning the lights out yet, but I am worried. As is usual. To love FNL is to preemptively mourn it, no matter how much better it gets every single week.

What To Expect: Responding to an email offering a free place at a cast and crew luncheon, all five remaining fans of this show will be taken to a remote location and savagely beaten, then possibly murdered. That’s literally all they can do to us at this point.

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One thought on “WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING TV

  1. Well I’m excited about it all. Having a couple of months off from good tv has been kind of nice (now that I know the end is in sight), but I am definitely looking forward to Lost, 30 Rock, the Office, and HIMYM getting back on the air. And probably a few more.Plus the TWoP recaps, of course.

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