Monday, September 18, 2006


The golden age of TV drama will not include STANDOFF I’m afraid. There is a danger that one hour shows will become formulaic and STANDOFF is leading that charge.

It stars Ron “When am I going to be the next George Clooney already?” Livingstone and Rosemarie DeWitt (Gillian Anderson meets Annabeth Gish) as FBI hostage negotiators.

The FBI must have 73 divisions and there is now a show for every one of them. I’m waiting to meet the courageous team that oversees payroll.

The guy-girl hunk team is now a standard. But in fairness to STANDOFF, that’s across the board. Everyone in drama is hot looking. There are no ugly people solving crimes or saving lives. According to television, on career day all the beauty queens gravitated towards the forensics booth. Even House is only “TV ugly”, and by that I mean, scuffed up but oooh those dreamy blue eyes (that get 56 close ups an episode).

These gun toting prom king and queens all seem to bicker but we know better. There’s sexual tension going on there. But the twist in STANDOFF is…there’s no tension. They’re going out. And they’ve even announced that to their boss. Their big roadblock is that they’re not allowed to kiss or even hold hands at hostage scenes.

As for the premise itself, it’s all familiar territory. And when you’ve seen Denzel Washington, Kevin Spacey, and Samuel L. Jackson (“there’s muthafuckin’ hostages on the plane”) do these scenes, Ron Livingstone pales. By week two they were already bargaining with the two dozen pizzas.

And by the nature of the premise, there’s little or no action. The crafty negotiators “convince” the kidnapper-of-the-week (who’s usually just a well meaning regular schmoe who’s misunderstood) to give up before anyone gets hurt. For suspense there’s a clock attached. If last week’s air traffic controllers aren’t freed soon passengers will miss their connections.

It reminds me of a show from the mid 80’s called THE EQUALIZER. Edward Woodward, a fine middle aged British actor with a decent rug, played Robert McCall, a former agent now for hire for underdogs who needed protection. He was smart, he was tough. But he couldn’t do any action. The actor was recovering from a heart attack. So every week the exciting climax was McCall saying to the bad guy (who he never had to chase), “Drop the gun. I’m serious!” Hearing the word “serious” the villain always dropped the gun. Something about that accent, every hardened criminal knew he had met his match.

STANDOFF has the same boffo socko endings except their stars are fit.

Between the perfect COP-les, the procedurals, the running serials, the insidious plots to overthrow the government, the medical shows, lawyer shows, psychic crimefighter shows, quirky detective shows, and Ann Heche in “Diane Chambers goes to Northern Exposure” – most dramas are trading originality for franchise. Take a lesson from comedy where even a show called STILL STANDING isn’t.


Webs said...

Livingstone was amazing in "Band of Brothers". He had that cynical alcoholic vibe down perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Entertaining post!
And you are right, the formula is getting old (it's actually so old already it's borderline necrophilia).
A few years ago I saw my first episode of CSI (Las Vegas that is) and was hooked. I had to watch every episode I missed so far. Then came CSI: Miami and I started getting fed up. CSI:NY I never saw more than three episodes. A year ago I stopped watching all CSI and it's the same with a lot of the other shows: Bones, Close to Home, Closer... I am bored to death watching them. I felt the same way with Standoff: As you said it's the same premise over and over again added with the fact that there isn't even tension between the characters.
What bothered me with CSI is the "freak of the week" thing. They ran out of ideas and now like in Smallville (what a great comparison) they come up with totally ridicolous plotlines and villains.
House is also a formula-show, but it has entertaining characters, humour and I find myself not really caring for House to solve the case but just enjoying the performance :) What I would REALLY like is a surprise-element: Why do they have to solve every case?! Why can't they fail and the patient dies? Or with CSI let a villain win (I remember some episode where Grissom had an arch-enemy who always outsmarted him). That would be entertaining ;)

James Moran said...

That's why The Equalizer rocked - McCall was so hard, all he had to do was tell the villains to drop their guns, and they'd do it. Or he'd shame them: "Is this how you make your money? Selling DRUGS? To CHIL-DREN?" and they'd look all sheepish, and give up. If all else failed, he'd shoot them dead, then look really cut up about it, the sad result of another wasted life. Fantastic.

Anonymous said...

I started wathching CSI: Miami only after they added Eva Larue to the cast.... And I'm still wondering when David Caruso is going to have a good chiropractor fix his curvature of the spine....

Anonymous said...

It would be good to see them kill off shows by using crossover casts. Like CSI:Wisteria Lane. Get rid of anything that that has already peaked, but do it with a story arc.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I am sort of looking forward to the new show where the main character is a man pretending to be a psychic who helps the police. Now that's an original twist to a formula that got old pretty quick.

Anonymous said...

Good article, Ken...but you have to note one way in which television is reflecting reality--ugly women don't defend God, country, and family. If the image of a female conservative commentator is supposed to he a hot babe in a short skirt a la Ann Coulter, ABC certaioly can't hire someone who looks like Margaret Thatcher, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, or even Elizabeth Dole. So that is why Ally McBeal herself, Calista Flockhart, is playing a Coulter/Laura Ingraham type character on the network's new drama BROTHERS AND SISTERS.