THE OTHER DAY the CW made a bizarrely unprecedented move to renew eleven of its current original series’. Bear in mind that this is basically all their programmes confirmed to be coming back for the next year (sorry Beauty and the Beast and Significant Mother for being the odd ones out but if it makes you feel any better, I’m not sure anyone really knew you were on TV to begin with). These shows were their superhero block – Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, their sexy fantasy/sci-fi block – The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, The 100, Supernatural, there’s iZombie which technically can fit into both of the previous categories while still defying them and then the odd ones out – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, Reign. When I was going to write this article, I was going to just talk about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but considering the buzz surrounding renewing all eleven of these, it seemed a golden opportunity to highlight one of America’s most underrated networks.
So let’s start with the reasons why you probably aren’t watching these (barring the unavailability of some programmes regionally) is that a lot of them have god-awful titles. Well, no, that’s unfair some of them have functional or decent ones, I mean, what else were they going to call The Flash. But it does seem that calling your show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is just setting it up for fans have to explain to non-fans ‘no really, it’s way better than the title makes it seem. Honestly it’s good’. It’s important to consider the impact a title has on a show because to a lot of people, it can be the only indication of quality they have when reading through the TV pages, sometimes they don’t have a synopsis to rely on so you want your title to encapsulate every reason to watch the show in question. Maybe it’s possible that the titles are almost designed to be eye-catchingly bad, iZombie and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend spring to mind as to of these shows that have taken the awfulness of their titles, embraced it and blown apart their premises to examine people’s preconceptions of these titles.
Let’s just get one thing out of the way, no I haven’t watched all of the tv shows I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve only watched season one of Jane the Virgin with Supernatural, I’ve watched a handful of episodes out of its 200 plus run, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Reign and The 100 I haven’t even begun to watch. I’m ashamed to say I’ve watched the pilot of Beauty and the Beast (seek it out if you want to watch one of the worst television pilots. Possibly ever, certainly that I’ve witnessed). So basically this is a review of iZombie and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with some discussion of the DCTVU (and the award for today’s clumsiest acronym goes to…)
iZombie shouldn’t work. But it does. It’s just your standard Detective procedural about a zombie who works in a morgue to get a fresh supply of brains and has access to the memories of murder victims by eating their brains but pretends to be psychic to cover it up. As I say, standard. What really works for the show is its commitment to larger than just case-of-the-week storytelling. Sure every one of these shows has their running narratives (Castle’s story about who killed Kate’s father is a particularly tedious one) but somehow Veronica Mars’ Rob Thomas and his team of other former VM writers have managed to craft a deeply rich universe in just one and a half seasons including already three or four ‘Big Bad’s operating at once without it starting to feel overstuffed. It helps that they’ve put in some strong character actor types in David Anders as oddly lovable zombie drug dealer/blackmailer/murderer Blaine, Steven Weber as basically insane head of an energy drink company Vaughan and relishing every moment of screentime, Eddie Jemison as crime lord, Stacey Boss. It should go without saying that as a product of the creator of VM, our protagonist (as endearingly played by Power Rangers RPM’s Rose McIver) Liv Moore is an intriguing creation given Thomas’ signature pop-culture heavy, arch, witty dialogue but never made too clever to be unbelievable, given talent but not the unlimited brilliance of some TV detectives, she has relationships but she doesn’t always get compromised, in short, a lot of what works is the programme’s wilful ability to make everyone have moments of vulnerability, especially the fascinating arc of Liv’s on/off ex Major Lilywhite (look, there’s a lot of silly names but go with it) who without giving any spoilers manages to complete transcend his bland, pretty boy beginnings and has one of the most tragic arcs on modern television. Even supporting players like comic relief co-worker Ravi or best friend and lawyer Peyton are given more to do and feel like actual people instead of machinations of the universe around Liv. If I had to criticise it, the only major one (beyond the silly names, but then what did you expect with a show called iZombie?) it’s that such an intricate focus on wider universe and character interplay can leave the actual cases feeling a little half-cooked at times as they’re frequently unconnected to the main story and a little bit of an afterthought. That said, if you having watched the first season can show me a programme that uses Falco’s Der Kommissar to better effect, I’ll eat my hat (or indeed my brains. Haha. Zombie joke).
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is an altogether different beast. It’s just your standard musical comedy drama about depression. Hailing from the minds of YouTube sensation Rebecca Bloom and Devil Wears Prada writer Aline Brosh McKenna, Crazy Ex Girlfriend (also starring Bloom) is about Rebecca, a lawyer in New York who moves to California to follow a childhood crush and generally to get away from her miserable life. Also as a coping mechanism for living, she imagines many things as musical numbers. Much like iZombie, what makes Crazy-Ex work is both its commitment to its premise and its ability to craft interesting characters. I mean it took them seventeen or so episodes but they even managed to make the ‘bitchy yoga teacher love rival’ a fully rounded character with sympathetic qualities and fears and whatnot. It even manages to approach more difficult subject matter for mainstream television like mental illness and bisexuality with a deftness of touch that never comes off as exploitative or preachy. It helps that the show exists in an absurdist, cartoonish universe but it allows them to examine these things without ever having to forget to throw in a great gag or a killer musical number. I’m also impressed by how much they’re able to get away with under mainstream US TV rules (sample lyric from a katy perry parody about girl-crushes: I wanna kill you and wear your skin like a dress, But then also have you see me in the dress, And be like “OMG you look so cute in my skin!”). It’s also oddly a programme with zero percent bullshit. Despite the premise suggesting lots of flights of fancy, it really doesn’t allow the characters to get away with anything without someone or them self-deconstructing their stupidity. It’s this thin line between cartoonish and reality that makes it a truly unique experience.
Arrow, Flash & Legends of Tomorrow? They’re just your standard superhero action television. No, they actually kind of are. I mean, for what they are they’re done well but there’s not much to be said about them apart from yeah, they’re all pretty good.
Buzzterms for this month:
Bechdel Test Television
Joe is regretting this feature already.