THE 2015 POPFILTER TV CHALLENGE:
We’re back, bitches! Last fall, PopFilter took the world by storm by instituting the very first Fall TV Tournament of Champions, in which we pitted all 35 new fall shows against each other, in attempt to find the one new show that you should be watching. And we decided that Transparent was the winner…much like the rest of the TV watching world. So maybe that tournament was a little unnecessary, but what are the odds that pop culture is going to collectively pick a winner out of all of the shows that come out in March? I mean…it’s March. I bet you didn’t even know that television shows premiered in March. Well, they do, and before you decide to watch none of them, we’re going to help you pick one single show.
SECRETS AND LIES
Building an ensemble, and choosing your stars, is a big reason your show will sink or swim. Unless you’re talking about The Mindy Project, which mixes up its cast every six episodes or so. You want some stars to make people trust your product. You want some chemistry – which isn’t just a thing needed in buddy cop movies and romantic comedies, but needed for every genre. You need actors who are on the same page as the showrunner and the tone of the show. And you need people capable of doing the things they are asked to do. Are Josh Duhamel and Dean Winters objectively better actors than Ryan Phillippe and Juliette Lewis? Maybe, but that’s not the point. The point is that Duhamel and Winter landed in a project that is perfect for them, or they are perfect for it, and Lewis and Phillippe most certainly did not.
Maybe the producers of Secrets and Lies pulled out their Big Book of Celebrities in Order of How Famous They Are, started at the top of the list, and eventually fell all the way to Ryan Phillippe and Juliette Lewis. Maybe the showrunners had those two actors in mind the second they decided to adapt this story for American television, and tailored the project for them. Either way, the two do a pretty good job of reminding us why they haven’t been around for a decade or so. Phillippe plays a suburban dad who discovers the dead body of a ten year old neighborhood kid (fulfilling that television quota for March), and Lewis plays the detective who somehow knows for a fact that he did it. The two actors spend the first hour of Secrets and Lies (great title by the way – was Mystery! taken?) flailing and screaming and crying and proving themselves totally incapable of what they’re being asked to do. By the time the pilot’s final twist is revealed – a twist that is telegraphed from minute six – Lewis and Phillippe have talked you out of coming back next week, even from a hatewatch stance.
Josh Duhamel and Dean Winter might not be future Hall of Famers, but they’ve always been likable actors who rise above the crap that they are in, or keep the good stuff floating. Winter plays a small town detective who is pissed when Duhamel’s FBI agent moves in to help clean up the town. Capitalizing on the tension between the police and the FBI may seem unnecessary, seeing as how we had every action movie and television show of the 1980’s, but it’s the type of plot point that pilots revolve around, and then gets forgotten as episodes and seasons go on. Much like Secrets and Lies, the details don’t matter – it all relies on the chemistry of the two stars. Even in something like True Detective the details don’t matter. You might think you kept watching just to get every ounce of information about the Yellow King, but the thing that hooked you initially was Rust and Marty, Matthew and Woody. Battle Creek knows this, and forces it at times. It knows it needs to have its heroes have the same conversations we’ve seen in Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon, and 48HRS. We need to know immediately which one is the Paula Abdul, and which one is the M.C. Skat Kat. But for every forced “I don’t know who you are or what you’re saying,” there’s another conversation or line of dialogue that is legitimately funny, or at least refreshing.
I’ve purposefully kept myself from talking about the fact that Battle Creek is created by Vince Gilligan. This is not CBS’ Breaking Bad. This is CBS’ attempt at putting the procedural aspect of their shows, not to mention the dark, humorless tone of their shows, in the background and deliver a more balanced hour of television. Battle Creek easily moves on to round two.
– Ryan Haley
NEXT: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH vs. CSI: CYBER