Spike’s Idiot Box: Pilot Episode

I’ve been in thrall of television for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I loved ‘Sesame Street’, ‘Our Gang’ reruns, game shows, ‘Donahue’, reruns of ‘The Brady Bunch’, ‘Gilligans’s Island’, ‘Bewitched’, and ‘The Andy Griffith Show’. Saturday mornings were spent on the carpet directly in front of the idiot box – the boob tube – with a bowl of Alpha Bits cereal in front of me while I was taken to ‘The Land of the Lost’, ‘Johnny Quest’, and ‘Hong Kong Phooey’. During primetime, it was ‘Emergency!’, ‘CHiPs’, ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Sanford and Son’. Hell, I even loved the commercials: Hai Karate aftershave, C & H Pure Cane Sugar, and Mr. Whipple always admonishing his customers to stop squeezing his Charmin toilet paper. My tastes have always been pretty eclectic.

Television had and still has the ability to transport me to different times and places. It’s hyper-reality. In the right hands, it’s the ideal delivery vessel for mass media. Certainly narrative storytelling benefits from serialized installments. We get to know the characters so much better than those we root for in a 90- or 120-minute movie.

The purpose of this column is to share my thoughts and opinions on current television shows. There will be lots of spoilers, so if you’re averse to them, beware. There are a lot of opinions… mine is only one. I’m sure that I’ll like a lot of stuff you don’t, and that I’ll hate a lot of stuff you like. I can be a bit of a blowhard and have a tendency to be hyperbolic. I change my mind frequently, as well. On rare occasions, I’m wrong, so allow me to proffer a mea culpa in advance.

To start things out, I’d like to mention some of the new shows coming out this fall that I’m most looking forward to. I’ll at least give them a test run to see how they turn out.

  • ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’
  • ‘The Blacklist’
  • ‘Hostages’
  • ‘The Goldbergs’
  • ‘Lucky 7’
  • ‘Masters of Sex’
  • ‘The Michael J. Fox Show’
  • ‘The Crazy Ones’
  • ‘Hello Ladies’
  • ‘Dracula’

There are others, but these are the new shows that I look forward to most.

Returning shows that I love include:

  • ‘Sons of Anarchy’
  • ‘Homeland’
  • ‘Boardwalk Empire’
  • ‘South Park’
  • ‘Parks and Recreation’
  • ‘Parenthood’
  • ‘Bob’s Burgers’
  • ‘The Good Wife’
  • ‘Eastbound & Down’
  • ‘American Horror Story’
  • ‘The Walking Dead’
  • ‘Doctor Who’

You’ll notice that I don’t mention any so-called “Reality” TV. I find almost all of it to be unbearably tedious and insipid. The only Reality show I watch is ‘Top Chef’ (and some of its spin-offs).

I’ll give my two cents worth of opinion about each of these and more in a brief, pithy and hopefully entertaining way in future columns.

To ease into things, I’d like to briefly call attention to some of my favorite and least favorite shows of the year.

Hannibal‘ was simply fantastic. The story’s been told repeatedly, but it never fails to fascinate. This version has been updated for our times. It’s disturbing, gruesome fare told in a way that’s unusually violent and grim for network television. Mads Mikkelsen’s take on Hannibal Lecter is perfection, and Hugh Dancy nailed it as his nemesis Will Graham. ‘Hannibal’ had the misfortune of airing on NBC, a fate I wouldn’t wish upon any program that I like. It seems that nobody watches the network any longer, and ‘Hannibal’ struggled to find an audience. Happily, NBC renewed the low-rated series, which will return next spring.

If you haven’t seen ‘Top of the Lake‘, you should. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. Directed by Jane Campion, it’s a disturbing detective story set in rural New Zealand with a truly excellent performance by Elisabeth Moss (‘Mad Men’).

The third and final season of AMC’s ‘The Killing‘ was extraordinary. I know the show wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and it certainly struggled to find an audience, but I was thrilled when AMC greenlit a third season. It went even darker than the first two years, somehow, and the stakes were extraordinarily high. I just loved the dynamic between detectives Linden and Holder, and I’ll miss this show.

I really looked forward to ‘Under the Dome‘. (I enjoyed the book.) Alas, I thought it was an absolute stinker from the first episode. It was originally supposed to be a standalone series that reached conclusion by the end of summer, but it was such a ratings smash that CBS is stretching it out and changing the story for multiple seasons. Not for the better, either. On the contrary. I wondered how Dean Norris (“Big Jim”) felt taking on such a terrible role after his superlative Hank in ‘Breaking Bad’. I suppose he got a much larger paycheck, so question asked and answered. I found the dialogue to be the worst I’ve heard since I can’t remember when. “Pink stars are falling in lines.” “The Dome wants…” It was laughably awful. I confess that I watched the whole season, but mainly just because I wanted to see if the show could possibly get worse. On that front, it never disappointed. It’s unintentionally and unflatteringly hilarious.

Another show I found to be completely overrated was ‘The Following‘. I looked forward to this series as well. Sure, Kevin Bacon does a fine job as troubled FBI agent Ryan Hardy, but the story became so absurd and ridiculous that I found myself constantly rolling my eyes at how the storylines managed to out-dumb themselves as the season progressed.

Three shows that had excellent beginnings but that quickly lost momentum were ‘The Bridge‘, ‘Low Winter Sun‘ and ‘The Americans‘. I haven’t given up on any of them. Their stories are interesting and the acting superlative (especially ‘The Bridge’), but the narratives of each slowed way down in the middle. It became rare and rarer to find myself truly in their thrall.

I know most of the shows bullet-pointed above have already begun. I like to give most shows at least 2 or 3 episodes before deciding whether or not to continue with them. In next week’s column, I’ll have some thoughts on each (and more). There are a very few absolute winners and losers, and a whole lot of middling shows that I haven’t made up my mind about yet.

To finish up my first column, I’d like to thank you for your patience as I find my voice. This is a new thing for me, and my writing may appear awkward, pretentious and/or wishy-washy at times. Hopefully, I’ll improve with time. Unlike, say, ‘Under the Dome’ and ‘The Following’.

[Editor’s Note: I think the Comments section of this column will make a good place to discuss both the content of the column as well as general TV topics. Tell us there about what show’s you’re currently watching. However, be aware that Spike will have a dedicated recap post for the ‘Breaking Bad’ finale very soon, so let’s hold off on discussing spoilers for that until then. Thanks. –JZ]


  1. NJScorpio

    I tried, for some reason, to watch The Goldbergs. Terrible. Unwatchable. And this comes from someone who can laugh at David Spade.

    I watched both episodes of Brooklyn 99 last night, and LOVED IT! Great cast. I have a feeling this will be a huge hit for many seasons.

  2. I thought The Americans was consistently good throughout its season.

    The Bridge started off great, but I was disappointed in the direction the storyline took to making the killings a personal vendetta against one of the main characters. That said, the episode in the middle with the really “OMFG!” shooting was pretty terrific.

    I’m a couple episodes behind on Low Winter Sun. I was never really enthused about that one when it started. I think it got a little better, but it was never one of my favorites of the year.

    The Michael J. Fox Show is much better than I expected.

    I liked but didn’t love the pilot episode of Hello Ladies. I’ll try to have a recap of that soon.

    I recorded Masters of Sex last night but haven’t watched it yet.

    I can’t stand Eastbound & Down. I don’t find one single thing about Danny McBride tolerable in the slightest. Anytime he pops up in a movie I watch, he invariably makes that movie worse. I just don’t understand what people like about him. It’s a total mystery to me.

  3. William Henley

    “Under The Dome” sounded like such a great concept, but I could not make it past the fourth episode. It reminded me of the concept of Stargate Universe – lets take a group of people with huge psychological issues, strand them or isolate them, with limited resources and no hope to get more. Watch what happens. Horrible concept, and at the end of the fourth episode, I still do not know a single character’s name, nor do I care to. The story is horrible, you have no attachment to any of the characters, and as such I could care less if they lived or died.

    The surpriser this year was “Sleepy Hollow”. I expected this to be bad – VERY bad. Maybe it was my low expectations for the show that left me open for a surprise – despite the fact that it has a cheesy backstory, it was actually pretty good. I plan to watch the second episode tonight on Hulu.

    Agents of SHIELD also was enjoyable. It felt like a modern day XFiles to me, or what Heros COULD have been. That being said, we will see how it holds out after the intial episode.

    Returning shows that I like – Once Upon a Time (it was one of those shows that I thought I would hate but ended up addicted to), South Park, Family Guy, American Dad.

    Reality shows that I am watching (some DVR’d) – [Insert Country]’s Got Talent (don’t know why) and Dance Moms. I can’t tell you what it is about Dance Moms I like – didn’t care for Cheer Extreme (or was it Cheer Perfection), and couldn’t make it through the first episode of Dance Moms Miami. Yet Dance Moms is like crack to me. I am catching up – I don’t have cable anymore – picked up Season 1 on Vudu, and kept waiting and waiting for season 2. Finally found out there is an episode that they only aired once and is not available anywhere other than the dark side of the internet, which is preventing me from buying the season. They did do a DVD release without that one episode, so I finally picked that up. I plan to get through that over the next couple of weeks, then pick up season 3 on Vudu.

    Lastly, I like 19 Kids and Counting and United Bates of America. I am picking up seasons of those off of Amazon. I think the main reason I like these shows is the families have similar moral and religious values to myself, and – this is the big thing – I know that there is pretty much nothing they would do on that show that I would find inappropriate or shocking (and yet I watch Fox, South Park and Dance Moms. I guess that is a bit hypocritical). I guess more than anything it just has to do with the mood I am in – do I want to watch something fun and wholesome, or something fun and offensive or something fun and shocking?

  4. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    In retrospect, I kind of wished I’d mentioned House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. I thoroughly enjoyed both, particularly House. Orange maybe got a bit more effusive hype than it deserved, but was still pretty entertaining and original.

  5. If you kinda like the Bridge, I would recommend viewing the original Swedish/Danish version (if it’s available with English subtitles). The stories are more or less the same, but most of the things that makes no sense in the American version isn’t in the original at all.

  6. Sarah

    I’ve only made it through two episodes of Under the Dome. Maybe I should give up now.

    I too am impressed by Sleepy Hollow. It is a slightly guilty pleasure, but if you enjoy American Horror Story (which I’m really looking forward to this season of) you might like it.

    I didn’t watch any of Low Winter Sun, only because AMC’s aggressive hawking of these wares to the Breaking Bad viewers was a little much to take.

    Have you heard of A Young Doctor’s Notebook? The first season aired months ago on BBC, and it makes its US debut this Wednesday on the totally unheard of network Ovation, which my Xfinity schedule confirms I actually get although this is news to me. Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm play the same character (but the younger doctor hallucinates the older doctor is with him so they can interact) and they are an old-timey surgeon juiced up on morphine and cutting up people. Could be fun. The trailer is readily available on YouTube and such.

  7. Any fans of The League here? What did you make of last week’s Rafi and Dirty Randy episode? Honestly, I think the show may have gone too far with that one. Even though it’s an edgy comedy, that episode was sadistically dark and twisted, and felt really out of place. Actually, until the final scene, it played like a backdoor pilot episode for a spin-off, which was weird considering how obviously unlikely it would be for Seth Rogen to commit to a sitcom right now.

    • The worst episode of the series, by far. Rafi and Dirty Randy are bit-part players. A whole episode featured on them stunk of desperation.

      It’s clear that the past two episodes of the league have been covering up some sort of shake-up in the casting. For some reason Nick Kroll is nowhere to be found so they seem to be throwing together filler episodes until the cast is at full-strength again. The good news is that you could completely skip over this episode and not miss a single thing.

      • My DVR cut off at the very end, when Kevin received the video from Rafi. I tried to catch it On Demand, but I was locked out of fast-forwarding, so I would have had to rewatch the entire episode. Not worth it. What did I miss?

        • T.J. Kats

          I don’t even remember the end but agree that was easily the worst episode. I like Rafi in small doses but this was way to much.

  8. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    Boston007: Your reaction to The Blacklist was kind of my reaction to Hostages. I kind of liked The Blacklist, though. Even though the plot is a bit…much.
    NJScorpio: Interesting. I’ll touch on it more in my next column, but I actually quite liked The Goldbergs!
    Josh: Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed The Americans. I think it kind of dragged a bit in the middle episodes, though. But I’m very much looking forward to their second season. It’s a unique show…one of f/X’s best.
    William: Well said on “Dome.” I’ve heard similar things about “Hollow,” but I still haven’t been able to bring myself to watch. Because the premise makes me cringe a bit.
    Trond: I’ve heard such great things about the original version. I’m hoping it comes to Netflix soon. Also Borgen, for that matter.
    Sarah: Thanks for the tip about “Notebook.” I’m intrigued! If Ovation is in my lineup, I’ll be DVR’ing it.
    Josh & Aaron: After your exchanged I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I enjoyed the latest episode of The League. I’m not a parent, and it’s really difficult to offend my sensibilities. Maybe I can blame youthful exposure to the filthy, disgusting, hilarious work of early John Waters? I missed the usual gang, but as a one-off I was entertained. Did you see We Are Men on CBS last night? God was it a chore to complete. Kind of a low-quality, cleaned up version of The League, if you ask me.

    • In reference to ‘The League’ it has nothing to do with the actual “edgy content.” You shouldn’t be watching ‘The League’ in the first place if you’re easily offended. The bigger point is that the episode as a whole makes utterly no sense within the confines of the show. It would be like if ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘The Walking Dead’ suddenly did a slapstick comedy episode just because.

      It’s a fine episode for the ‘Rafi & Randy’ show (heaven forbid). But for ‘The League’ it’s completely useless.

    • NJScorpio

      I think comedy is the most subjective genre, so I totally get when someone loves a comedy series or movie that I just can’t get into. But, IMO, The Goldbergs just felt so cheap.

      You know what did it for me? What made me insist on shutting it?

      The Grandfather shows up to give his Grandson his old car, having just bought a new Pontiac.

      He drove there, by himself. With BOTH CARS.

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