2016-2017 TV Season Review: NOTORIOUS and WESTWORLD

NOTORIOUS - ABC's “Notorious" stars Piper Perabo as Julia and Daniel Sunjata as Jake. (ABC/Kevin Foley)
NOTORIOUS – ABC’s “Notorious” stars Piper Perabo as Julia and Daniel Sunjata as Jake. (ABC/Kevin Foley)

I missed the pilot of NOTORIOUS but I watched episode two… or I should say, I endured 3/4s of the episode before I decided to stop torturing myself.  It’s a show about a TV news show producer (Piper Perabo) and a celebrity lawyer (Daniel Sunjata), and how their two worlds, media and the law, are entwined. The series wants so desperately to be shocking, racy and daring… but it feels like a rehash of the worst elements of SCANDAL, DYNASTY and LA LAW all mixed together in a blender with a book of cliches. It’s all beautiful, cardboard characters in gorgeous clothes in brightly-lit sets being oh-so-naughty…and yet it feels so tame, so forced, so fake. A behind-the-scenes moment with the female newscaster, playing strip poker with a camera man, is just one of the cringe-inducingly-fake situations that make this show so painful in its attempts to be scandalous.  NOTORIOUS is the television equivalent of the fake wood trim that’s supposed to make the interior of a Chevy Impala feel luxurious. The only thing notorious and NOTORIOUS is that it got on the air at all.

After a week or so of slogging through dreck,  I have finally seen one new fall show that’s worth watching. Not surprisingly, it’s on HBO and not one of the broadcast networks. WESTWORLD takes a familiar premise — an amusement park full of robots where nothing can go wrong — and gives it a twist. In this telling, it’s the robots who are the  heroes… and the guests who are the bad guys. Imagine a version of JURASSIC PARK where everybody is rooting for the dinosaurs and that’s the conceit of WESTWORLD (both WESTWORLD and JURASSIC PARK were creations of Michael Crichton). But it’s clear the writers are going for something deeper and richer than simply shifting your rooting interest…and I’m eager to discover what it is. And that they are doing it with WESTWORLD, the 1970s movies that essentially started the “robot amusement park goes wrong” genre, makes it even more subversive.

My only problem with the show is that, at least in the pilot, they’ve tipped those scales too far the other way. All the human characters are unlikeable. They aren’t nuanced at all. The humans are bad, bad, bad…while the robots are tragic, imprisoned figures being horribly, and repeatedly abused in just about every way.

The production values, starting with the stunning main title sequence, are top-notch, so much so that you can almost forget, but not quite, that you’re seeing the same western sets that have been used in dozens of other TV shows and movies.

The cast is exceptional, too, though it’s a shame to see Sidse Babett Knudsen, the wonderful star of BORGEN (one of my favorite series) playing such a one-dimensional baddie. It’s a waste of her considerable talent but a joy to see her again nonetheless. I hope we’ll see her “human” character become less robotic…as the “robots” become more human.

3 thoughts on “2016-2017 TV Season Review: NOTORIOUS and WESTWORLD”

  1. The ads for Notorious look terrible, therefore, I didn’t waste my time on it. The only reason why it is on is to fill the time for Scandal. I think it will be the first to be cancel.

  2. Watching Ep2 without Ep1 might have left you with slightly misleading perspective. The original trailer looked like it was goign to be as you described (“scandal”), but Ep1 was a bit more “behind the scenes of Entertainment Tonight” as if ET had hard-hitting news. But buried within was actually a bit of a storyline about the lawyer and the producer, and “who killed the wife”. A little less scandal, a little more “how to get away with murder”. But the “strip poker” scene is part of what will be a running gag for that character, it’s more a light-hearted “look, some women can be cougars and the producers have to be deal with it”.

    Don’t get me wrong, the show is dreck for the most part, but Ep 1 had some more meat to it…


  3. I had to look up the title designer for WESTWORLD and sure enough, it was the production company Elastic, which has done great sequences for DAREDEVIL and THE NIGHT MANAGER, among others. Their titles immediately grab your attention and I never mind seeing them each week, especially in this era where networks are trying to get rid of them.

    My only nitpick with many of the Elastic titles is that the font for the credits is so darn small, even when viewing them on my 52″ HD TV. Some of us have old eyes!


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