Saturday, June 9, 2012

Summer TV: "The Choice" and "Saving Hope"

As part of my summer TV viewing experience, I caught up with two new shows Thursday night. One was awful, but got good ratings. The other had a mysterious and sort of intriguing idea that came off a bit flat in execution, but was still, well, sort of intriguing. And that one got very bad ratings.

I guess that means summer audiences are attracted to bad TV. Or maybe it just means when the weather is hot and there are lots of entertainment options, audiences will go for the train wrecks before they try anything which require even a little patience and an attention span.

The first (even I can't believe I tried this) was a dating game on Fox called "The Choice," hosted by the lovely and charming Cat Deeley, the tall British blonde who also hosts "So You Think You Can Dance." On the first episode of "The Choice," celebrity (yes, they use that term extremely loosely) bachelors, including singer Romeo, DJ Pauly D. from "Jersey Shore," soap actor Jason Cook, currently on "General Hospital," and a former Olympic skier named Jeremy Bloom, sat in big spinning chairs, just like the ones on "The Voice," and chose a dating pool for themselves sight unseen from among single ladies supplied by the show to vie for their favors.

So the bachelor boys sat in their chairs, facing the audience, while behind them, girls came out one at a time and said things like, "I've got beauty AND brains!" or "I like to party!" or "I was a pageant girl!" or "I spend all my time with my 95-year-old grandmother!" or "I have a stripper pole!" The bachelors could then push their buttons (dubbed Love Handles by somebody behind this idiotic show) if they liked the sound of a potential date, and if more than one flipped his switch, the woman got to choose which one she wanted to go for. But don't worry -- the celebrities did not have to date the women they'd picked without looking. Because once all four guys had three girls in their pools of potential dates (and those girls had inexplicably been given sashes with the boys' names on them), they went through a speed-dating round where they hurled something like 30 seconds of questions at each other, the guys each tossed out a girl, they posed soundproof booth questions reminiscent of "Miss America" to the two remaining girls on their teams, and then the men got to pick one woman for their actual dates. No rings or phony proposals like the idiotic "Bachelor," no time spent on sending them to colorful Puerta Vallarta, like the old "Dating Game." Just, now they're gonna go on a date! Maybe to In-and-Out Burger. Maybe a trip to Vegas on Fox's tab. Maybe back to his place to clean the pool. Who knows?

Let's just say this was a cheap show which probably borrowed the chairs straight from "The Voice" now that that show is over for the season, and certainly didn't spend any time making sure the premise worked. The way they set up the show seemed fairly chaotic and uninspired, with no real momentum or flow, neither the men nor the women came off particularly well or made much of an impression one way or the other, and even Cat Deeley seemed forced and awkward. On the plus side, none of the women or men seemed to be drunk or otherwise impaired (like "The Bachelor") and a couple of the men at least pretended they were looking for something other than looks, even though we all know they weren't. Or maybe they didn't care because they have no intention of going on these "dates," anyway. Will I watch again? No. Am I sorry I wasted an hour with this nonsense? Yes. Very.

"The Choice" airs on Fox Thursdays at 8 pm in the Central time zone. Next week, the bachelor panel includes Mike Catherwood, Joe Jonas, Seth Wescott and Parker Young, and I have no idea who any of those people are except the Jo Bro.

Thursday night's other new show was a medical drama on NBC called "Saving Hope," adding a fantasy twist to the formula by putting one of its characters, a surgeon played by Michael Shanks, into a coma in episode one. Shanks' character, Charlie Harris, now wanders the halls of the hospital in a tuxedo, chatting with patients who've just died about this whole limbo/afterlife thing, while his fiancée, Alex, another doctor played by Erica Durance, tends to her own cases and mourns him in his coma. A new hotshot surgeon, who has a past with the fiancée, complicates matter by having a much different style than Charlie and having that romantic past (and potentially a future) with Alex. He's played by Daniel Gillies, a rakish Canadian with a New Zealand accent.

As it played out in the pilot, "Saving Hope" was mostly about the hospital issues, with doctors and nurses handling ethical dilemmas involved in the three different cases that raised issues of guilt, responsibility, love and faith. To provide Charlie, the surgeon roaming around in spirit form, with something to do, the hospital setting offered up a dead John Doe killed in a bus accident and a pregnant young woman who died after giving birth. That gave the show a rather grim mood along with a platform to talk about life, death and the afterlife.

And therein lies its central problem, for me, anyway: They're going to need to keep killing people to give him conversational partners, since so far, only dead people can see him. That, and the fact that Charlie was injured right before his wedding (hence the tuxedo he's stuck in), breaking his fiancée's heart, make it a fairly depressing show. "Topper," this ain't.

At the beginning, I thought that they'd be using Charlie and his other-worldly vantage point to help solve cases, and in the end (of the run, not the first show), they'd get Charlie out of the coma and back into Alex's arms for a happy ending. But so far, Charlie's had no interaction with the on-going medical plots, not even with his own patient from before he got knocked into the coma. And the way the characters have been set up (see: promotional image above, with Durance and Gillies front and center and Shanks fading out in the background), it seems more likely that they're using all the hospital ghosts as a way to ease Charlie into his own death. I can see him now, in his last seconds as a ghost, bestowing his blessing on the new guy to give Alex her happily ever after. And that is not something that appeals to me as a viewer, some season-long (or however many seasons-long) consciousness-raising to help Charlie finally shuffle off this mortal coil. Besides, the new guy came off as a bit of an ass, and I'd rather Charlie wake up and go back to Alex himself. He can have a new attitude. But he needs to come back. The fact that one way or the other it's going to take the end of the show to solve this tiresome triangle is not encouraging to me.

"Saving Hope" has the 9 pm (Central) slot on Thursdays on NBC. That's IF it lasts more than a few episodes, given those dismal ratings. I hope they've already put an episode in the can to tell us whether Charlie dies, though, and NBC airs that one before the show goes to that Great TV Graveyard in the Sky.

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