The Light from the TV Shows: Taking a Gander at the 2012-2013 Season

Sure, the kick-off of the 2011-2012 TV season is still about four months away, give or take, but it’s never too soon to start getting excited about the new shows that will be gracing the broadcast networks come the fall…or to start placing bets on which ones will be the first to be cancelled. I’m keeping my mouth shut on both topics for the time being, but I have no doubt that most folks who check out these network-provided plot synopses and trailers won’t hesitate for a moment to offer up their opinions, so I look forward to reading what ya’ll have to say about what’s coming up…

ABC

666 Park Avenue (Sun., 10–11PM): At the ominous address of 666 Park Avenue, anything you desire can be yours. Everyone has needs, desires and ambition. For the residents of The Drake, these will all be met, courtesy of the building’s mysterious owner, Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn). But every Faustian contract comes with a price. When Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) and Henry Martin (Dave Annable), an idealistic young couple from the Midwest, are offered the opportunity to manage the historic building, they not only fall prey to the machinations of Doran and his mysterious wife, Olivia (Vanessa Williams), but unwittingly begin to experience the shadowy, supernatural forces within the building that imprison and endanger the lives of the residents inside. Sexy, seductive and inviting, The Drake maintains a dark hold over all of its residents, tempting them through their ambitions and desires, in this chilling new drama that’s home to an epic struggle of good versus evil.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Getting Your Scare On with “American Horror Story”

The Television Critics Association press tour is always an exciting opportunity to mingle with my TV critic peers, meet and greet with the individuals involved in the latest and greatest (and otherwise) new series, and get the scoop on what we’ll all be seeing on the small screen over the course of the subsequent six months. This summer’s tour was the first time I didn’t subsequently write up my recollections of the event – my only excuse lies in the lyrics of John Lennon: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – but had I pulled together a list of highlights, one of them certainly would have been that I had the opportunity to head over to the 20th Century Fox lot and attend a special advance press screening of the pilot episode of FX’s “American Horror Story.”

Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were in attendance to introduce the pilot, along with cast member Connie Britton, and, as is par for the course for series creators when they’re standing in front of an audience of TV critics, Murphy and Falchuk seemed as excited for us to see the episode as they were nervous to learn what we thought of it. Indeed, unless they were skulking in the back of the auditorium, they didn’t stick around to witness our reactions to the events unfolding onscreen, let alone to hear any of our discussions after the closing credits had rolled.

It should come as no surprise to learn that critical reaction was mixed – I mean, that’s pretty much a given for any new series, right? – but if there was one recurring theme to the many conversations going on about “American Horror Story” during our post-screening dinner, it was that a great number of the people who wouldn’t necessarily commit to actually liking what they’d seen were at least willing to concede that it was going to stay near the forefront of their thoughts for quite some time to come…which, as it happens, is where I was with the show, too.

If you’ve seen the pilot, you can probably appreciate my position: it’s creepy, disconcerting, and, yes, there are a few legitimate scares amidst the cheap but effective made-ya-jump moments, but it’s also full of a multitude of horror tropes and plot devices, including (but not limited to) a haunted house, gory murders, ghostly apparitions, eccentric neighbors, a sinister stranger delivering a warning of impending tragedy, and a pregnancy possibly brought about by evil forces.

Was it memorable? Absolutely. Did it make an impact? I dare say it did: even though I didn’t know if I liked it, I already couldn’t wait to watch it again. Was it sufficiently intriguing for me to want to seek out a second episode? You better believe it. But even with these things said, in addition to getting the feeling that Murphy and Falchuk were throwing things against the wall to see what stuck, I was also left with nagging uncertainty about where the hell they were going with this thing.

Now that I’m six episodes into the proceedings, I’m far more confident about the situation, but I won’t lie to you: it was a little bit touch-and-go for a bit.

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A Chat with Carla Gugino (“The Mighty Macs”)

Bullz-Eye: We met very briefly in person when you were at the TCA tour for the “Californication” panel.

Carla Gugino: Yes! Very good…and a totally different project! [Laughs.]

BE: To say the least. So how did you find your way into “The Mighty Macs”? Was the script pitched directly to you?

CG: Yeah, you know, my wonderful agent – his name’s Mike Nilon – he’s actually from Philly, so he kind of knew the story and said, “There’s this filmmaker, Tim Chambers, who wrote and is gonna direct this, and he’s really interested in meeting with you for the role of Cathy Rush.” And I was doing a play…I was doing “Suddenly Last Summer” off Broadway with Blythe Danner at that time, so Tim came to see the play and took me out to dinner afterwards, and he basically told me the story. And, of course, then I read the script, and we went on from there. But he was so passionate about this story and had done such extensive research and was just really galvanized to tell it. And I think that’s the thing for me: it’s always about looking for a person with a vision at the helm, and a character that I have not gotten to play yet. That sort of scares me in a great way. [Laughs.] And in this particular case, you know, Cathy’s a pretty phenomenal woman – she’s still alive and thriving – so to do justice to her story felt daunting in the most fantastic way.

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HS TV 101: 12 Great Shows Set In or Around High School

High school: it’s a rite of passage we all must endure. Some of us weep when it’s over, others can’t wait to say goodbye forever, but for better or worse, it’s an experience that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The same goes for some of the many TV series that have been set in high school. Here at Bullz-Eye, we’ve polled our writers for their favorite shows within the genre, and the end result is, not unlike high school itself, a mixture of both comedy and drama.

12. Life As We Know It (ABC, 2004 – 2005): Lasting only 11 episodes before ABC unceremoniously yanked it from the air, “Life As We Know It” premiered during perhaps the most cancel-happy era in television. Developed by two of the producers of “Freaks and Geeks” (maybe the writing was already on the wall), the series may have ultimately been undone by poor ratings, but the Parents Television Council’s campaign against the show’s sexual themes certainly didn’t help. Then again, when you green light a series based on a controversial young-adult novel called “Doing It” that follows the exploits of a trio of best friends (Sean Faris, Jon Foster and Chris Lowell) navigating the highs and lows of adolescence, you can hardly pretend to be surprised when its characters discuss sex on a fairly regular basis.

Featuring a great cast of young up-and-comers that also included Missy Peregrym and Kelly Osbourne (yes, that Kelly Osbourne, who’s never been cuter than she was here), “Life As We Know It” certainly wasn’t perfect by any means, but it easily outshined similar shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.,” particularly in its handling of its adult characters. The series wasn’t without the usual high school clichés, but the writers never shied away from edgier material, either – like a student having a secret affair with his teacher or a star jock dealing with performance issues – resulting in a smart, sweet and incredibly honest look at how sex changes everything. – Jason Zingale

11. Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC, 1975 – 1979): Despite suffering through remedial classes and acting far more rebellious than was deemed socially acceptable, Gabe Kotter (played by the suspiciously similarly-named Gabe Kaplan) still somehow managed to graduate from James Buchanan High School, but who would have thought that the dreams that were his ticket out would lead him back there? (John Sebastian did, of course, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion.) With his teacher certification tucked into his back pocket, Kotter returns to his alma mater and takes on the challenge of trying to educate the new generation of remedial students. Oh, sure, their names have all changed since he hung around – now they’re called Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) – but they’re still “sweathogs” all the way.

Most would likely agree that “Welcome Back, Kotter” was at its best when it was still the original four Sweathogs, i.e. before Travolta slipped away from television, put on a white suit, and found big-screen success on the dance floor, but even at its funniest, few would probably describe it as the most realistic look into high school life.

“I don’t think anyone was trying to replicate the high school experience so much as they were trying to service those particular characters and write stories about them,” said Mark Evanier, who served as a story editor for the show. “If you could get a good joke out of it, great…though there were times I think we settled for a decent catch-phrase.”

While the words “up your nose with a rubber hose” lend credence to Evanier’s theory, the Marx-Brothers-inspired chemistry between the Sweathogs helps their slapstick shenanigans hold up nonetheless. And, besides, who needs realism when you’ve got Gabe Kaplan doing Groucho? – Will Harris

10. Glee (Fox, 2009 – present): Is it telling that one of the most popular current shows on TV came it at only the #10 spot? If nothing else, maybe it proves we here at Bullz-Eye aren’t prone to fads. Except that maybe we are, as “Glee” has made it onto our TV Power Rankings lists time and again since its debut. But this list isn’t about what entertains us in the broader sense; it’s about great high school shows. As entertaining as “Glee” can be, it has almost nothing real to say about the high school experience, and in fact most of the high school kids I know find it to be pretty nonsensical.

The one area that it seems to excel in as far as capturing the high school experience is in its ability to play romantic musical chairs with its cast of teenage characters. These kids are fickle, and the only guarantee that seems to come with a relationship on “Glee” is that sooner or later it’s going to end. Some props should probably also be given for their attempt to zero in on the bullying issue that so seems to afflict kids today, but “Glee” chose to unfortunately treat the topic with kid gloves rather than say something truly meaningful. None of this is to say that “Glee” isn’t one hell of an entertaining series, because it is, but anyone looking for something a little deeper would do best to dust off their old DVD of “The Breakfast Club.” – Ross Ruediger

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