Saddled with the unreasonable task of attracting an audience in a toxic timeslot (Tuesdays at 9:30pm) with little promotion, ABC’s Trophy Wife was doomed to fail from a commercial standpoint. As of two weeks ago, it did – the network announced that it had cancelled the show after its first season of 22 episodes.
From a creative standpoint, the show seemed doomed to fail based on title alone. The idea that in 2014, a physically fit young woman who marries an older man could be described with a phrase as derogatory as “trophy wife” gave no one optimism that Trophy Wife would be a show worth championing. Yet the show quickly established that the title is an ironic commentary on the assumptions that people would make about Malin Akerman’s title character based on her appearance. Irony doesn’t always translate well into casual conversation, and indeed, when I tell people I like a show called Trophy Wife, I frequently get looks that would be more appropriate if I had just said that I willingly stepped in dog waste.
But enough about the title. Let’s talk about the show. It was a good one, and I’m going to miss it. I can imagine an alternate reality in which this show became a timeslot complement to ABC’s relatively highly-rated Modern Family and survived for four or five seasons of gleeful hijinks before retreating to a lifetime of syndication on cable. That would have been a far more appropriate fate for a show that married traditional sitcom standards with a modern perspective on family life as well as Modern Family at its very best. Not everything worked – some of Kate’s ongoing struggles to prove that she’s a worthy parent grew repetitive, Jackie’s antics often strained credulity, and Natalie Morales’ Meg usually seemed like an enjoyable character who belonged on a different show. But when it worked, and it frequently did, Trophy Wife showed far more promise than any other new comedy on the networks this season, save Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Enlisted.
This week in New York City, the four broadcast networks are unveiling their fall schedules, complete with renewals, cancellations and pickups. Though a volley of announcements earlier this week robbed the announcements Up Front at the Upfronts: ABCof much of their suspense, and the very idea of a fixed schedule is irrelevant to a large percentage of the TV viewing public, these announcements remain interesting as the last vestiges of an outmoded business model.
ABC is up second. Click here for the network’s fall schedule with Vulture TV reporter Joe Adalian’s analysis. Notable points:
Serious is overrated.
There’s a tendency in critical discussion of modern entertainment to elevate shows that tackle “dark” and “mature” subject matter (drugs, violence, grief) above shows with sillier, funnier, brighter ideas (family, community, professional and personal success). And it’s not just television. The Oscars rarely, if ever, make room for comedies and lighter movies amid the annual barrage of solemn dramas about historical events and “important issues.” Dying is easy, comedy is hard, and getting recognition for making great comedy is the hardest of all.
To be fair, many of the critically acclaimed dark shows earn their praise – in 2013, for instance, Breaking Bad, Rectify, Mad Men and Hannibal tackled unpleasant subject matter with nuance and artistry aplenty. But too often, good or even great comedies fall by the wayside in our hurry to anoint a new drama as a worthy heir to those titans of TV drama’s alleged Golden Age. But it’s just as important to recognize achievements in comedy, a genre that requires as much talent and passion as drama but in service of a different set of goals and emotions.
While wide swaths of television fans have been obsessing over True Detective and biding their time until Game of Thrones and Mad Men return, two network comedies have quietly shoved their way to the head of the TV class. Enlisted and Trophy Wife both have trappings that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a network comedy before (slapstick, “heartwarming” moments, wacky dancing), but they’re also exploring relatively untapped thematic territory, the casts are deep and diverse, and both shows are (most important for a comedy) really, really funny. But they’re languishing in their timeslots and hurting for viewers as they approach the end of their respective first seasons. Even as critics like Maureen Ryan and Alan Sepinwall have begun to sound the gong in favor of “save this show” campaigns and last-minute timeslot switcheroos, these shows may have been doomed from their first episodes.
Yesterday, I unveiled a list of my ten favorite shows of 2013. As I argued in my piece on Wednesday, though, this year’s television can’t be summed up in terms of just ten shows. Here, then, is a snapshot of other things I enjoyed on TV in 2013.
In 2013, couch potatoes reframed the phrase “too much TV” to signify the veritable bounties of powerful dramas, gut-busting comedies and intriguing hybrids splashed across an unprecedented array of channels and platforms. No longer can concerned parents or frustrated roommates complain that you need to get out more – they’re too busy binging on House of Cards and catching up on Scandal.
Regardless of what this visual buffet means for the state of physical fitness, there’s no denying that 2013 brought riches aplenty for people who find value in the artistic medium of “television.” Whether you were letting Netflix give you the royal treatment, carrying you from one episode to the next without so much as a click of the mouse, or you were continuing to exert power over your remote control, greatness was bursting from every frame. A brilliant thriller about an alliterative meth king ended its run in a blaze of frightfully intense glory. Serial killers and murder mysteries reigned supreme in a wide range of settings, tones and character shadings. We dove headfirst into the emotional lives of inmates in a women’s prison, found surprising emotional depth in the tale of two Russian spies whose marriage oscillates between façade and fulfillment, and marveled at the dexterity of a young woman tasked with simultaneously portraying nearly a dozen versions of herself.
Listen to Episode 12 here.
Welcome to the M&M Report once again! This week, Devin Mitchell and I are experimenting with a new recording format in preparation for our monthlong break from the rigors of academia. I went to one room, Devin went to the next, and we recorded a nice Skype conversation. Next week, we’ll do the same – from opposite sides of the country. (No pressure.)
We started out this week summing up our thoughts on roughly the first half of the 2013-2014 TV season. Between the two of us, we’re watching Trophy Wife, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Sleepy Hollow. Most of the other new shows failed to strike our fancy.
After that, we talked about how the broadcast networks can survive in the rapidly evolving television landscape. This season’s new shows have been largely unsuccessful in the ratings, but we don’t think networks are dead just yet.
Finally, we’re unveiling a conversation we recorded a few weeks ago: an in-depth review of the Coen Brothers’ new musical drama Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s a terrific movie and we had thoughts about Oscar Isaac, folk music and cats.
Keep an eye out for discussions of the best pop culture of 2013 in future podcasts. Until then…thanks for listening!
Keep reading for the time breakdown.
Click the link for The M&M Report, Episode 8.
Welcome to The M&M Report once again! This week, we started out with some brief recommendations. There’s lots of great TV and movies for you to watch right now, so get to work! We suggest 12 Years a Slave in theaters and Trophy Wife and The Good Wife on your television.
Next, Devin and I each chose our favorite movie. Mark went for a breezy 1980s blockbuster, and Devin chose a methodical 1970s thriller. You’ll have to listen to find out what we chose!
Finally, we invited our friend and colleague Chloe Johnson to talk about Arcade Fire and the band’s new album Reflektor, currently available wherever music is sold and streamed.
Coming soon: more special guests! Devin Doesn’t Like Things: The Sequel! And much more. Thanks for listening!
Read on for the time breakdown.
Here’s the link for Episode 6.
This week on The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I dug into the first three episodes of Saturday Night Live Season 39 (THIRTY-NINE!), musing on everything from the show’s diversity issues to its spot-on Weekend Update, great and not-so-great sketches and even a defense of Miley Cyrus! Along the way, Devin directed an epic rant at TV critic Ryan McGee, I professed my undying love for Cecily Strong and neither of us could distinguish between the six new cast members.
(SNL returns next Saturday night with host Edward Norton and Janelle Monae. Make sure to tune in the following week as well – Kerry Washington will host and Eminem will perform.)
We followed up our SNL talk with a check-in on the fall season. We offered praise to lots of shows with Wife in the title, Mark offered some reservations about this season of Parenthood, and we both agreed that 24 hours per day simply isn’t enough to catch up on all of the TV we want to watch.
Comments? Questions? Show ideas? Random thoughts on life? Comment and let us know! Enjoy this week’s show.
Click through for the time breakdown.
00:00 – 19:30 — Saturday Night Live
19:30 – 44:36 — Fall TV: The Good Wife, The Walking Dead, Sleepy Hollow, Trophy Wife, New Girl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation, Parenthood
I won’t bury the lede: I’ve started a podcast! And I’m not doing it alone. My co-host Devin Mitchell and I are very excited to introduce the first episode of what we hope will be a weekly show. Each week, we’ll discuss topics in popular culture – mostly television, but we’re not opposed to discussing movies or any other pop culture that strikes our fancy.