PASADENA, Calif. — TV series can go from must-see to not-worth-DVRing over years, maybe because the show falters or because viewers find better alternatives. A little of both contributed to my letting go of “Modern Family” years ago.
Yet watching recent episodes reminded me of why I loved “Modern Family” when it premiered. Even after 11 seasons it remains an entertaining enough family comedy — albeit not as modern as it once was — as it ends next week with back-to-back episodes (9 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday) following a one-hour retrospective.
The show capably, often hilariously, interwove storylines about three connected families that were all part of a larger extended family. The fact that one family was headed by gay couple Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam (Eric Stonestreet) indeed felt modern at the show’s outset, when same-sex marriage was illegal in many states. Now marriage equality is the law of the land.
“It was revolutionary back then,” Ferguson said in January during an ABC press conference at the Television Critics Association winter 2020 press tour. “I don’t think it’s as revolutionary now, which I think is a great thing.”
“Modern Family” co-creator Steve Levitan attributes the show’s success and longevity to the alchemy of casting, acting, writing — and the show’s timing.
“It’s probably not a coincidence that the majority of the show existed during a time where things felt a little bit happier in the world,” he said. “All these different elements came together, and that’s a rare thing.”
So long, ‘Schitt’s Creek’
It’s always better for a TV show to end too soon than to go on and on, becoming a shadow of its former self. The producers of “Schitt’s Creek” timed it just right, ending the series after six seasons.
What began as a fish-out-of-water show evolved into a better, big-hearted character-driven comedy by its third season (if you’re looking for a binge show now, go to Netflix to watch the “Schitt’s Creek” pilot and then skip to the middle of season two).
The show began to show signs it might be getting just the slightest bit wobbly in season five, but setting an ending increased the show’s vitality in its creatively strong final season.
Warm and funny, “Schitt’s Creek” ends with its final episode at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Pop TV, TV Land, Logo) followed by a one-hour retrospective. (A Paley Center discussion of the show’s early seasons, featuring co-creators Dan and Eugene Levy, will be available at 8 p.m. Friday at youtube.com/user/paleycenter.)
Streaming service Quibi — short for “quick bites” — launches Monday featuring at least 50 original series, a mix of news, reality shows and scripted movies/series offered up in no more than 10-minute episodes.
This mobile-only video venture — there is no smart TV app, though you could cast it from your phone to a TV — offers 90 days free when you subscribe in April at Quibi.com or via the Quibi app. After that it costs $4.99 per month with ads, $7.99 per month without ads.
Created by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, Quibi was designed with commuters in mind. Of course, right now no one is commuting — this month podcast listening and downloads are down 10-20% (depending on the metric used) due to COVID-19 — but Katzenberg argues the “in-between moments” Quibi was designed to fill remain.
“I would actually say in the our work-from-home lives, for those who are able to work from home and those who are simply self-quarantined, we have more in-between time than we’ve ever had before,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “It’s different but it’s not as though it has gone away.”
Featuring an extremely light ad load on the ad-supported version — just one 15-second pre-show ad per episode — Quibi differentiates itself from short-form programming of the past (think: web series) with high-caliber production values and brand-name stars.
“How different are apples and submarines? They couldn’t be more different,” Katzenberg said of any comparisons between Quibi and what’s come before.
Movies are presented in short chapters, which Katzenberg compares to how Dan Brown wrote shorter chapters in “The DaVinci Code”: “What he’s done to novels, we’ve done to our movies.”
In addition, as viewers turn their phones from horizontal to vertical while they watch, Quibi programming adjusts from a landscape to portrait view while remaining full screen.
One of Quibi’s higher profile projects, a “Reno 911!” sequel series that brings back the original cast, wrapped prior to the COVID-19 shutdown and will debut in May.
In the meantime, here are quick-bite reviews of a few of the series debuting in Quibi’s first week:
“Chrissy’s Court”: A comedic “Judge Judy” that supposedly features real people (their quips seem pretty practiced). Chrissy Teigen presides over low-stakes, amusing disputes (boyfriend sues boyfriend over buying the wrong birthday gift for a niece; lounge singer sues restaurant patron over $999 speaker).
“Flipped”: Funny or Die-produced comedy starring Kaitlin Olson (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Will Forte (“Last Man on Earth”) as a dim couple who have never owned a home and seek to become home renovation stars on a HGTV-like cable network.
“Most Dangerous Game”: “Running Man”-like scripted thriller starring Liam Hemsworth as Dodge, a Detroit husband with a terminal illness who allows himself to be hunted to raise funds for his pregnant wife, who kisses him after morning sickness. Biggest drawback: Billed as an action-thriller, nothing thrilling happens in the first four episodes made available for review.
“Murder House Flip”: True crime meets home renovation in this program that HGTV would never make. It’s a docu-series about people who buy and makeover houses where murders have occurred. Three short episodes per house still feels a bit padded.
“Survive”: Drama starring Sophie Turner (“Game of Thones”) as a young woman in a mental health facility (for PTSD and suicidal ideation) who survives a plane crash. This character drama works much better in small bites than “Most Dangerous Game.” It’s also a smarter show.
Christopher Meloni will reprise his role as Elliot Stabler in a “Law & Order: SVU” spin-off ordered straight to series by NBC. …Hulu renewed “Shrill” for a third season. … Netflix canceled “Messiah,” “V-Wars” and “October Faction” after a single season each but renewed “Locke & Key” for a second season. … Emma Farrell, a senior at Carnegie Mellon University from Telford, Pa., will make her first appearance in the “Jeopardy!” College Championship Monday (7 p.m., WPXI-TV). Kylie Weaver, a senior at Penn State from McLean, Va., competes on Wednesday’s show. … Murrysville native Jason Kilar, a former Hulu CEO, was named CEO of WarnerMedia on Wednesday. WarnerMedia is the parent company of HBO, TNT and the upcoming HBO Max streaming service, launching in May.
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