Critic's Notebook: What's on My Mind About TV Right Now

COUNTERPART - Still 1 -Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Now that I've officially told the story of what I can't call this collection of TV items, I'm just going to go on the assumption that everybody will be OK with a numerical listing of things going on in the business or rattling about in my brain.

Otherwise I'm going to rebel and write a weekly column about wine and music. So, take it or leave it. (I'm going to ask if I can call it "A Number of Things About TV" for the future. I'll keep you posted.)

1. I've said it before, like here in 2016 and before that on my podcast and probably mumbled it a lot walking around in my slippers, but rebooting old TV series is fine by me if you are still interested in broadcast television, because it's about the last solid idea that's left for them. So, yeah, makes business sense. I'd rather see someone make the next The Good Place than Murphy Brown, but I'm also not an elderly person more interested in nostalgia than trying something new.

2. Starz really and truly has something in Counterpart. If you're not watching, you need to rectify that right now.

3. By the way, Starz is an interesting premium cable channel to study for trends, if only because it will hurt your brain and make you drink before you realize that not having a coherent strategy is actually the strategy and it seems to work (you know, the whole Power vs. Outlander vs. The Girlfriend Experience thing). The channel is pulling in disparate audiences to make up its whole.

4. Showtime, for me, is a vastly different animal to understand. Basically I've come to terms, a few years ago, with the realization that Showtime is not making the kinds of series that appeal to me (but that could certainly change, specifically after SMILF and Guerilla, and maybe future programming). I'm not a huge fan of holding onto series beyond their sell-by date (Shameless, Homeland, Ray Donovan), but I also realize those shows have a die-hard core audience and while turning over the roster and developing new series is essential for subscriber growth and remaining relevant, abandoning those core series would also not be good business. For the record, I positively reviewed all three of those series and, in various ways, really enjoyed them for a number of seasons. Billions, which is arguably Showtime's premiere series now, has lots of admirers but, again, just didn't hook me.

Still hoping for another must-see drama from Showtime, but in the meantime the one place it's absolutely kicking ass is with its "Music Makers Collection" of music docs. And after releasing XTC: This Is Pop, well, I can only hope they continue to build out this diverse collection of offerings.

5. So, you have a high-definition television, right? It's probably pretty big, too. If you haven't watched Planet Earth II or Planet Earth: Blue Planet II on it, you're not using it right.

6. HBO has its own issues (as does every cable channel competing in the premium content space), but it certainly got a jolt of positivity with the good press surrounding Big Little Lies casting for the second season. But here are the two areas of concern I see. 1) Whether Nic Pizzolatto's writing for True Detective season three can be, well, significantly better than season two (if not, maybe stars Mahershala Ali, Stephen Dorff and Scoot McNairy can elevate the content like Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson did in season one). 2) Whether the channel's smart decision to slow play the development of Confederate, the high-risk, low (or no) reward controversial series that was planned for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss leads to outright abandonment. If ever there was a time to rethink an idea and gracefully escape from it, this is it. I mean, the dead-in-the-water nature of the True Detective franchise after the horrific, unwatchable second season became a suspect but daring programming revival which only made sense based on the amazingness of season one. Repeating that might be a risk worth taking. If this new season doesn't work, well, then HBO will know definitively where the problem rests. But Confederate? In a world where Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Apple are going to be all-in on content designed to attract attention and lure eyes, the last thing HBO needs to be doing is sinking down with risky series about slavery in an already racist America. Yes, the creative gleam and ambition that says, "That's precisely why now is the time to make this!" will pop up (it already has), but here's a short story about that: No.

7. I'm very interested to see what FX can do, post Disney-Fox merger, with some additional zeros in the budget. The best-curated channel in television could be even more dangerous.

8. It's taking a very long time for Amazon Studios to announce Roy Price's permanent replacement (a person who would also theoretically lead the hiring of other execs who bailed). But maybe the giant streamer is trying to get it right. Which is good. If the new person is not a woman, then it will have truly got it wrong. Which will be very bad. Amazon Studios has rapidly upped new hire Sharon Tal Yguado, who went from head of the nebulously titled Event Series to overseeing all scripted content. Another powerful creative woman at the top would go a long way not only to sending a message about the past and the path forward, but, as I wrote about before, it's a great job to have and there are numerous women executives who are more than qualified to have it.

9. A conversation I had the other day with someone that I'm absolutely positive reflects 90 percent of everybody else: Them: "Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale — she's so amazing! I love her. And Top of the Lake! Wow. Did you like that?" Me: "Loved it." Them: "Are they ever going to do another one?" Me: "They did." Them: "WHAT? When?" Me: "Last year." Them: "WHAT? Where?" Me: Sundance TV. Them: "Are you sure it's a second one? A second season?" Me: "Yes." Them: "I never heard one thing about that!" Me: "Have you heard of Peak TV?"

10. Jimmy Kimmel having Stormy Daniels set to appear on his show the same night as the State of the Union Address is only one of endless reasons I love Kimmel so much.

11. Raise your hand if you think Apple is going to spend more than the reported billion it said it would on content in 2018. Hi, I'm waving at you with my raised hand! Raise your hand if you think Apple is going to buy Hulu after Disney acquires controlling interest? Hmmm.