The state of genre television – Fall 2012

Last year at this time it seemed like we were entering a ‘golden age’ of genre television. How did that hold up?

There was so much new genre television last year, it was almost unreal, but now we’ve awoken from the dream, and perhaps seeing a more realistic landscape, in which networks are afraid to invest in any show which is too strongly set into the genres. I can’t blame them. They were bit last year with Alcatraz, Awake, The River, The Secret Circle, and Terra Nova all bombing right out. Alcatraz and Secret Circle were at least able to finish their opening seasons, but that was enough for their respective networks, and we lost them for good.

The only new fantasy show we managed to keep was the sometimes too sappy Once Upon a Time, and it’s not really much of a geek interest. The audience is concurrent with daytime soaps, if the commercials are any judge. We’ve also got Person of Interest, Grimm, and Touch, but these just serve to make my point. Audiences are willing to watch sci-fi/fantasy right now, but only if it’s also a mystery show. Two of those three actually feature detectives, and the other is a big-mystery show which might as well have a detective in it. Even Once Upon a Time is a big-mystery.

A few genre shows with more momentum will be making it back. Supernatural is going into a third season beyond what should have, by all rights, been the end of the show, and Fringe came back under the condition that this is their last season, and they only get half of the usual run. Warehouse 13 and Alphas return on Syfy, and seem to be ready to stay a while.  Game of Thrones is here to stay as well, but it’s only ten episodes per season, and we won’t see it again until Spring.

The BBC is bringing us Doctor Who and Merlin, both excellent, and we’ve also got a few good genre animated series returning. Topped by the outstanding Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the show is joined by Tron: Uprising, Green Lantern: the Animated Series, and The Legend of Korra – but these are mostly dismissed as being cartoons for kids. Nevertheless, I can tell you a lot of genre fans are missing out.

Since that’s what sells, more and more of the upcoming genre serials are procedurals or big-mysteries. All the ones that had no mystery got passed over for this year. Beauty and the Beast, for example was supposed to be capitalizing on the newfound popularity of Disney fairytales, but it was a straight-up fantasy, so it never made it to pilot. Same with Beautiful People, which was planned as a 20-minutes-in-the-future drama about robots who look too human.

So, what new series are we getting?

Revolution, which already premiered a couple weeks back is a big-mystery serial about a post-technology world on NBC. Formatted like a combination of Lord of the Rings and Jericho, a small party of adventurers is seeking a way to turn the lights back on.

Zero hour on ABC is somewhat reminiscent of a serialized National Treasure, as the characters are following a puzzle that leads them across the world, chasing a conspiracy, while the life of the protagonist’s wife hangs in the balance. It won’t be airing until January, however, and then only if somehting else on ABC’s docket gets kicked, like if 666 Park Avenue doesn’t make it,  for example.

666 Park Avenue is also on ABC. This big-mystery show has the protagonists move into a swank apartment building, only to discover that otherworldly things are going on. The bright spot in this one is the casting of the villain: Terry O’Quinn (Locke from LOST) will play the building’s evil, yet charming, manager. The show opened last week to fairly low ratings (for a major network), so I wouldn’t get too attached.

Beauty and the Beast is a fantasy procedural based loosely on the 80’s show with Linda Hamilton and Ron Pearlman. In this one, Catherine, a hard-nosed NYPD detective, finds a deformed man, Vincent, a victim of military experimentation who is responsible for murdering her mother’s killers nine years earlier, an event which led the character into law-enforcement in the first place. Catherine then becomes his connection on the inside of the police department, as he fights crime on the streets. We’ll get to see the pilot for this one later this week on The CW. I’ll surely be watching, even if only to see Kristen Kruek in something new.

Also on The CW later this week, we’re getting Arrow, which is looking less and less like it will resemble anything close to the Green Arrow comics it is supposedly based on. The producers of this one seem to be trying very hard to distance themselves from the comics, from changing the name to removing all the costumes and code-names from the characters. They’re making a show about a comic book, but they really don’t want to be. I can’t see it turning out well.

Do No Harm is a serial following the story of Dr. Jeffery Kohl, a world-class neurosurgeon who has bungled up his own brain. At night, he becomes Ian Prince, a brooding bad boy who cares not for the desires of Dr. Kohl. Both parts will be played by Steven Pasquale, and the main action of the series will focus on the day-to-day drama of the hospital in which he works, and the complications that his alter ego causes in that environment. This one is the least mystery-oriented of the new shows we’re getting, but it also seems the most melodramatic. No word yet on when this one will premiere, but a full season was ordered, so we’ll see it eventually.

Neither CBS nor Fox are debuting any genre shows this season, unless you count CBS’s Elementary, which is very geeky, but still really just a crime-drama.

All this focus on mysteries is great if you’re into that sort of thing, which I must admit I am, but it would be nice to also get some good adventure shows back on prime time. The only place to get real non-mystery adventures right now is on HBO, BBC, and on Saturday morning with the kids. Maybe next year.