A summer show first:. There is clearly now a genre of slacker-out-of-water comedy drama that includes Chuck,Reaper and now The Middleman - and part of the new show's charm is that it has a female protagonist who is sharp and snarky rather than vaguely damaged in the way of the other two show's male leads. After an incident at a genetics lab where she was temping, she gets recruited, slightly aggressively, to be the sidekick of the Middleman, an ex-Seal who covers up weird science accidents and aspiring super-villains. He is an irritating smart-aleck straight-arrow - but he knows he needs a partner to spark ideas off and Wendy has the sort of presence of mind which makes her ideal for the job, even though he in many ways can't stand her.
The show has a liberal hand with pop-culture references, particularly with allusions to superhero comics - the writers clearly know their stuff there. I also particularly liked Wendy's room-mate and the hostile robot secretary, and the ability of all of the characters to say knowingly ridiculous things with a straight face. I am not sure whether it will develop the complexity that rewawakened my interest in Reaper when it came back after the strike, but I have hopes.
Of the pilots, Fringe is the new JJ Abrams show and is essentially a take on X-Files material with an FBI liaison officer who discovers that consensual reality is not as it seems. Her lover nearly dies and then turns out to be part of a conspiracy; she finds herself working with a literally mad scientist and his cynical son in a world where body-crystallising toxins, mind-walking, cyborgs and the like are just how things are. It remains to be seen how rapidly the secret conspiracy and wild-ideas-of-the-week get old - my guess would be far quicker than X-Files did, partly because Anna Tory as Olivia and Joshua Jackson as Peter have far less interesting chemistry. If it gets picked up, well, give it a few weeks, because it is competently if unexcitingly done and might get interesting...Probably not.
The show I was waiting for, though, and which I have no reason to expect will be picked up, alas, is the new Ryan Murphy pilot for FX . Now, obviously, I am interested in Pretty Handsome both because it is Ryan Murphy -for those who don't know, jennyo and I are working on a collection of essays on Nip/Tuck and because if it happens, it will be the first television drama show about a transwoman's transition, and the complications that ensue for her family and friends. The obvious problem is that Murphy's growing misanthropy - which sometimes manifests as misogyny - is going to get in the way.
And it does, to some degree, but partly because he has given the show a milieu which means he can vent at length about bourgeois propriety and hypocrisy. We find ourselves in a WASP enclave where people play tennis at the country club and the boys wear blazers to school; I have to confess that the upper classes make my skin crawl in the UK more than somewhat, and the pale preppy imitations of them in the US give me the sardonic giggles. Blythe Danner as Bunny Fitzpayne, the mother of the central character is clearly going to be one of Murphy's wicked witch characters; her husband Scotch is Robert Wagner, a gynaecologist consoling himself for a loveless marriage with his African-American receptionist. The good thing about these two is that they will be the lightning rod for Murphy's scorn, and deserve it.
The interesting characters, obviously, are Bob and Elizabeth, a couple whose troubles are not just that Bob has reached desperation. Bob has experimented with cross-dressing since adolescence as a way of running away from the actual issue, and has come increasingly to realize that he is not a transvestite man, but someone who terrifyingly wants to be who they really are. Murphy indulges his taste for low comedy in some scenes where Bob buys knickers, and rather more moving and less probelematic in scenes where dealing with a transman patient and his transwoman wife, and taking a stand against his father who does not want that sort of person in their waiting room, force Bob to terrifying self-identification. 'Why are you being so nice to me?' says Mario, and Bob cannot possibly answer yet.
The other plot strand follows on from Elizabeth's spotting of her husband in the mall buying lingerie. In order to deny that he is buying for a lover, while not telling the truth, Bob concocts a plan that they will attend a Halloween party cross-dressed. And there are some doors that only open one way...Joseph Fiennes is touching and attractive as Bob - the show is good on his streak of violence and self-loathing. At the same time, I didn't find myself identifying with the character particularly - mostly because I transitioned later than I should have, but still young enough not to hate myself too much for delaying.
The character I suspect I will come to love if we ever get any more of this show is Elizabeth who has an inner strength that Carrie Ann Moss makes poignant and appealing and incredibly hot. If the show does happen, it is going to be at least as much about Elizabeth as it is about Bob, and about her journey.
Oh, and there are also sons, with traumas, and the best friend of the older son, who is deeply in denial about his feelings for his friend and so claims to be pursuing Elizabeth. Yeah, right.
I am assuming this show is not actually going to happen - Fiennes has not mentioned it in recent interviews and Alexandra Billings, the trans actress who plays Mario's transwoman partner, has not mentioned it in her LJ recently. Things with strikes and cancellations are so fluid - FX cancelled Dirt so who knows what they are putting in its place - that we won't know for a while. Problematic as I found the show in some ways - I suspect that Ryan Murphy's views on trans issues do not entirely bear examination - I did want to see more of it.