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Tag Archive: Men of a Certain Age


By C.J. Bunce

Yesterday, Elizabeth C. Bunce began Part 1 of our list of the best TV series that started off great but were ended too soon by the networks.  So far that list includes Life, The Riches, Tru Calling, Eleventh Hour, and The Dresden Files.  What is the right number of episodes for a series, the right number of seasons?  One of the best series of all time, the BBC’s Life on Mars, lasted only two seasons, but as with a lot of British series, and unlike a lot of U.S. series, we got a complete story, wrapped up with a solid conclusion.  Veronica Mars lasted three seasons, but as much as we’d like to see more of Veronica, her dad, and her friend Mac, the series didn’t seem to have anywhere left to go, so it probably had the right amount of seasons for its story.  I felt like the Dead Zone could have had more seasons but it actually had a full six seasons, but a lack of a clear ending means we never know what happens to the evil senator-turned president and Johnny’s fate–the goal the story was driving toward in the last seasons.  And then there are series that started out as TV phenoms, but lost momentum from production theatrics, unresolved major plotlines, or writing that just couldn’t keep up with the initial successes.  In this category we put Heroes, Everwood, and Twin Peaks, shows we adored, but ultimately they had their chance and just blew it.  The following series, however, kept up their momentum to the bitter, but premature, end.

Wonderfalls (2004/Fox/14 episodes)

I missed Wonderfalls in its initial run and only learned of it when borg.com contributor Jason McClain loaned me the series several years ago.  I don’t know how I missed it the first time around as it had a lot you want for a good series–good characters, unique story, fun circumstances and a great cast.  Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas plays Jaye Tyler, an unmotivated college graduate stuck in a dead end job working as a sales clerk under some dim-witted, high school manager-types in the gift shop at Niagara Falls.  She is like  a grown-up cynical, smart, feisty, but frustrated version of Daria from the Daria MTV series.  Jaye is an underachiever, smothered by her well-meaning but overbearing brother, sister and parents.  We get to see Jaye meet up with a love interest (who comes to Niagara Falls with his fiance) and hang out with her best friend in a local bar.  And then souvenir animals in the gift shop start talking to her.  Great fantasy, the animals, including a deformed make-it-yourself orange lion and a talking wall trout, among others, serve as muses to Jaye, giving her cryptic directives that she initially will not listen to.  But they are persistent and the result is light-hearted, endearing, and funny.  

Cupid (1998-1999/ABC/15 episodes)

Before Cupid we only really knew Jeremy Piven from a small role as an annoying friend of Emilio Estevez who gets shot by a young Denis Leary in Judgment Night, and as Spence Kovak, a character that migrated between TV shows like The Drew Carey Show and Grace Under Fire.  His deadpan delivery that helped form his success today in Entourage was only brewing when he starred as Trevor Hale, a psychiatric patient who believes he is the one and only Cupid, sent down by Zeus from Mount Olympus to help 100 couples get together, but without his trademark bow, taken by the Gods as punishment for his wrongdoing.  I remember watching the show eager to see how he would make his love connections over the course of the series.  A premature thought since he only made it through a little over a dozen connections.  Here we also got to know Paula Marshall (Spin City, Veronica Mars, House, M.D.) as his friendly but concerned psychologist.  Was Trevor actually Cupid or just a guy in need of some medical help?  We’ll never know, but we think he really was Cupid.  A remake was tried, but it couldn’t come close to this series.

Journeyman (2007/Fox/13 episodes)

Not many science fiction series take place in the real world and Journeyman‘s genre bending and lack of a niche probably led to its short life.  Journeyman appeared as a standard drama but with a great twist.  Kevin McKidd plays journalist Dan Vasser in an updated Quantum Leap-type role.  Vasser has a wife and a kid, and a nagging brother played by Reed Diamond.  One day he steps into a taxi and finds he is transported to the past–like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim he is unstuck in time.  We soon learn he can travel back and forth, and he is guided in his travels by the past version of his thought-to-be dead ex-girlfriend.  An early version of the Burn Notice formula as well, Vasser tried to fix the past, learn from it and use it to make the world better, all the while struggling with the trials of everyday life.  Journeyman was a fun ride each week, and then it just vanished.  The bitter wife and brother seemed to detract from the story, and made us hope Vasser could stay in the past.  With only Vasser as a likable guy, it was probably hard to keep viewers coming back despite the idea’s great potential.

The Flash  (1990-1991/CBS/22 episodes)

It can’t be emphasized enough, the importance of good writing can make or break a show.  But even with a comic book favorite writer like Howard Chaykin, The Flash couldn’t make it work.  John Wesley Shipp, an ex-Guiding Light soap actor with the build for a superhero, to this day is the only actor in a series to successfully pull off the look of a comic book superhero (Lou Ferrigno’s The Incredible Hulk excepted).  The production used lighting, unusual camera angles and quick motion photography to document the comic book look to the story of Barry Allen, a scientist trying to discover the truth behind his amazing power of speed.  Every kid loved the show, it filled a niche that  no other show filled at the time, and is still a fan favorite.  We even got to see Mark Hamill as the Trickster, a post-Star Wars role, but early stage of Hamill in his later long career of voice-over work.

The Lost Room (2006/SciFi/3 episodes)

The Lost Room is a bit difficult to categorize, because it was intended as a mini-series, but the third episode left open the possibility of a full series, and what a great series this could have been.  The Lost Room of the title is in a motel along Route 66, a room that has no place in the normal timeline.  A mysterious “event” takes place in 1961 that causes all the Objects in the room at the time to take on powers of their own.  Peter Krause plays detective Joe Miller, who loses his daughter in the room.  Joe tries to find Objects to help him learn about the mystery of the room, and he encounters Kevin Pollak, a keeper of certain Objects.  The SciFi channel crafted the show well, with the hapless star guiding the viewer through the various puzzling Object encounters.  Peter Jacobson (House, M.D., Law and Order) is especially funny as the keeper of a ticket–tap someone with the ticket and they then appear falling from the sky to a highway in the middle of nowhere.  There was so much that could be done with this series, you wonder why no one gave it more of a try.

Do you have any TV series you would include on this list?  Share your favorite lost series–we love to check out new series we may have missed!

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

Our DVR broke this week.  I won’t go into the trauma of missing the last installment of Zen on Masterpiece Mystery, or of losing the final three (still unwatched) episodes of the now cancelled Men of a Certain Age.  The upside of this technological crisis, however, was that it spurred us to unearth old TV favorites on streaming video from Netflix and break out some DVDs.  There’s always something kind of bittersweet about that, though, especially running across old friends that were cancelled well before their prime, and in some cases even before they quite hit their stride.  And so, in memoriam, tonight borg.com will spotlight a few of our genre favorites that were cancelled too soon.

Life (2007-2009/NBC/21 episodes)
NBC’s short-lived quirky police procedural about a mild-mannered homicide detective wrongfully convicted of murdering his partner’s entire family starred English actor Damian Lewis (Assassin in Love, Showtime’s new series Homeland) and Sarah Shahi (USA’s Fairly Legal).  Its offbeat mix of gruesome murders and weird-but-lovable cast members was probably a little too offbeat for most viewers, but we loved Lewis’s Zen-meditating Charlie Crews and his efforts to fit back into his life and job after eleven years in prison and an undisclosed multimillion dollar settlement with the LAPD.  An intriguing series-long mystery plot (who really killed Crews’s partner?) might have made it more difficult for new viewers to join mid-season (although we had no trouble getting hooked after just one episode), but was thoughtfully resolved in the series finale.  Standout performances by Donal Logue and Adam Arkin only compound our sense of loss for this series.

The Riches (2007-2008/FX/19 episodes)
Before the days of Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, FX broke every rule of tasteless TV in this outrageous series about a family of Travellers trying to make it as “buffers” in an upscale suburban neighborhood, after assuming the identities of a family killed in a car accident.  Starring standup comic Eddie Izzard as title character “Doug Rich,” and Minnie Driver (Phantom of the Opera), The Riches featured scams, drug abuse, murders, robbery, and a host of other illicit goings-on–and that’s just by the heroes!  Alternately appalling and hilarious, ultimately The Riches just couldn’t hold on to its early impressive ratings, and was cancelled after only 19 episodes, leaving loyal viewers without even a semblance of closure to the Riches’ compelling storyline.

Tru Calling (2003-2005/Fox/26 episodes)
Eliza Dushku’s first starring vehicle of her post-Buffy days, Tru Calling had an excellent sci-fi premise, sort of Medium meets Groundhog Day.  Medical student Tru (Dushku) gets a part-time job in the morgue and discovers that the recently deceased can ask for her help, causing her to relive their final days, in the hopes of saving their lives or solving their murders.  Co-starring The Hangover‘s Zach Galafianakis in a wonderful role as Tru’s morgue mentor, and White Collar’s and Chuck’s Matt Bomer as Tru’s love interest, Tru Calling was gearing up for great things, the mysteries surrounding Tru’s power only building, just as the series was unceremoniously axed by Fox.

Eleventh Hour (2008-2009/CBS/18 episodes)
This American adaptation of the even-shorter-lived BBC medical thriller (with Patrick Stewart) starred accomplished English actor Rufus Sewell (Zen, Knight’s Tale, Pillars of the Earth) as Dr. Jacob Hood, FBI consultant solving baffling scientific crimes.  Not an outstanding series by any standards, Eleventh Hour was nevertheless competent and entertaining, and one had the feeling that the performers were better than the material they had to work with.  I firmly believe the show could have gotten even better, but it was trapped in a dead-end timeslot (Thursdays at 10 pm) and ultimately failed to interest the CSI viewership the network hoped would bolster ratings.

The Dresden Files (2007/SyFy/12 episodes)
I’m still stinging from the cancellation of this great adaptation of Jim Butcher’s bestselling urban fantasy series. Starring the always-solid Paul Blackthorne (guest appearances in Burn Notice, Monk, Leverage, Warehouse 13, and others), the show featured excellent writing, engaging paranormal storylines, and an absolutely winning cast, but wasn’t given the same network or fan support of later SyFy hits like Warehouse 13 or Eureka. Fortunately, all twelve episodes are currently available via streaming video on Netflix.

Tomorrow, C.J. Bunce will continue the list with the rest of our list of TV series that ended too soon.

Zachary Levi (Chuck on the TV series Chuck) took over Jolt’n Joe’s Restaurant in San Diego’s Gaslight District and during Comic-Con weekend he sold tickets to the public to benefit Operation Smile, a charity that helps children born with cleft palates.  Ultimately his “Nerd HQ,” along with selling nerd merchandising for Levi’s new enterprise, was able to collect more than $40,000 for the charity.  Nice work!

Over the weekend, the small venue of about 250 seats hosted members of the casts of Chuck, Psych, and Firefly, including Dule Hill and Adam Baldwin, and chats with Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings, Lost), Scott Bakula, Zachary Quinto (Star Trek 2009, Heroes), and members of his new company, Seth Green (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Jared Padalecki (Supernatural), as well as video game companies who co-marketed the event.

We attended the conversation with Scott Bakula and with maybe half the room filled, the intimate setting allowed for a lot of interaction. Unlike a lot of other panels with celebrities, Bakula was just plain fun. You could see that Scott was an actor who doesn’t take himself too seriously, yet he is serious about his craft.

Scott discussed his first major hit, Quantum Leap, and described the changes in special effects technology in that series versus today.  Back then he said he would literally have to freeze in place while his co-star Dean Stockwell would run into place–all to create the image of Stockwell’s character seeming to beam into the frame from the future.  Today, Bakula said that the director would film straight through and add the effects in later.  He said for fun, if you watch old Quantum Leap episodes pay attention to the extras in the background and you will notice they also jerk to a stop as part of the then “cutting edge” special effects.  The greatest challenge (and joy) of the show for Scott was working with an entirely new crew each week (since only he and Stockwell had a recurring role)–including literally thousands of actors–that appeared over the course of the series.

Bakula said he was proud of Quantum Leap and is glad a new generation can watch the series through technologies like DVDs and streaming media.  His favorite episode?  When he just played himself, going back and forth in time, including meeting his own father.

Similarly, Bakula said he enjoyed making the Star Trek series Enterprise.  He said he believed that in any other franchise five seasons would be a successful series, but for some reason in the Star Trek franchise you’re not considered a success if you don’t make it seven seasons.  He said part of the reason could be attributed to the tenor of the show in light of the post-9-11 landscape.  Originally sold as a light-hearted exploration show, the producers did not believe the audience at the time wanted to see escapist entertainment.  Instead the series became darker with more conflict.  While it worked and was more appropriate to the mood of the country, Bakula believe it led to the cancellation of the series.  He said ultimately “it hurt us” in terms of the longevity of the show. 

Bakula appeared earlier in the day on a panel with William Shatner and other former Star Trek captains at a Comic-Con panel about Shatner’s new documentary, where each captain is interviewed about his or her experiences.  Bakula said it’s a little hard not to pick up Shatner’s unique, abrupt dialogue timing after speaking with Shatner for an hour and answered the next question in Shatnerspeak.

Both Bakula and the audience had only just received word that Scott’s current series, Men of a Certain Age (co-starring Ray Romano and Andre Braugher) was cancelled by TNT.  It was clear that even this audience of genre fans followed Bakula in his new series and were disappointed in the news.  Bakula briefly explained how new criteria govern whether a show stays or goes, and that the days of following just one set of Nielsen’s ratings is long past.  With the advent of DVRs and similar technologies, where viewers may not watch a current program for 7 or 14 days out, the calculation of a show’s success is more difficult and arbitrary and ultimately each network has its own criteria.  He said for example, had Men of a Certain Age have aired on the AMC channel, it would probably have been renewed for another season.  He said Men of a Certain Age was TNT’s first in-house drama, and that may have played a factor in the show’s cancellation.

When Zack Levi introduced Bakula, he mentioned Bakula’s most recent genre role, that of his father on the TV series Chuck.  Levi noted the oddity of Bakula standing in the back of the room with Levi’s real dad, Daryl.  This all led later on to a duet from the stage show Godspell (which both had previously appeared in) by Bakula and Levi, both hamming it up in stage show style.

Bakula noted that his first love was the stage, and stage acting was preferable to him over TV and movie work, and his favorite work was any role where he gets to sing.

Bakula’s advice for everyone, actors or not, was far-reaching:  It’s important to stay passionate in your craft, even when your TV show gets cancelled.  Find what you love about acting or what you do and concentrate on that–that the only part you can control is the performance.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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