Sunday, June 10, 2007


So, following on from the last blog, here's something related, because it has to do with 'stakes'. There's a show on Fox TV right now (Fridays, right now immediately after Bones, but Bones is done for the season I think, so I wonder that's going to precede it now), back for a few more eps after a 6-month hiatus, called Standoff. The summary from Fox is below.

There's no crisis situation they can't handle... unless it involves each other. MATT FLANNERY (Ron Livingston) and EMILY LEHMAN (Rosemarie DeWitt) are the top-ranked negotiators in the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU). They're trained to talk their way through volatile situations. They're experts at knowing what makes other people tick. They're also sleeping together... a secret that they agreed to keep to themselves, until Matt revealed it to the entire world during a tense hostage standoff. The public revelation causes friction between Matt, who doesn't take much seriously and relies on gut instinct, and Emily, an academic who analyzes every move.

Their relationship also gets them into major trouble with their boss, CHERYL CARRERA (Gina Torres), head of the Los Angeles CNU, and raises eyebrows among their CNU colleagues, including intelligence officer LIA MATHERS (Raquel Alessi). While Matt and Emily should be split up for being romantically involved, they're too valuable as a team. Together, they're among the best in their field; Cheryl knows it, and they know it.

Week to week, Matt and Emily tackle much more than hostage crises. The CNU is called in to resolve everything from kidnappings and high-risk suicides to bomb threats, stalking cases and gang violence.

The duo also must work in concert with the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), led by irreverent but deadly FRANK ROGERS (Michael Cudlitz) and his wise-cracking cohort DUFF (Jose Pablo Cantillo). When Matt and Emily's nonviolent approach doesn't seem to work or takes too long, Frank and his team are ready to use full force. STANDOFF advances a fundamental idea: that in life and in love, "everything is a negotiation."

So, sounds like a cool idea—to me anyway. And it is. So, one wonders, why did the viewer numbers drop from episode 1 to episode 10 drop by almost 50%, enough to put the program on a hiatus and nearly an instant cancellation? Why do you get reviews like this, which, given the viewer number trends, seems to be indicative of a general attitude? Why will we not see more after episode 19, and why should I for one be pathetically grateful we see anything at all after episode 12?

There are people, of course, who like Standoff. I, for one, do. I think it's unusually well-done. Not in the right tone maybe, especially not for those incapable of enjoying a bit of leisurely subtlety. But it's got a pair of sympathetic leads for whom something over and above the weekly confrontations is indeed 'at stake'. Contrary to the unfriendly reviewer linked to above, there is character development. It's just not held up like a placard proclaiming CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT RIGHT HERE, but is implicit in each episode's story, which maps the development of the main characters into whatever happens around them, and vice versa.

Sometimes it's just a mirror; sometimes a definite and discernible 'lesson'. The characters, being smart people who know a thing or two about psychology, unlike the dimwits on so many other shows actually do take life and what happens on board and in the process develop their own relationship. There isn't, I admit, much development in the other characters, which is what runs against the current paradigm of TV show-dom where everybody gets a few episodes in the light. On the other hand, the show has a very important component that must not be overlooked: chicks with guns and attitude and taking no crap from nobody. Always cool. Joss Whedon would approve.

Still, it isn't enough; and if the show were to continue it would have to expand to deal with the lives of the other characters, rather than them orbiting about the Emily-Matt unit. But that would significantly alter the premise and tenor of the show, and then it wouldn't be any more what it is, and what it is is what gives it its charm.

James Cameron once said, about his also-ill-fated TV show Dark Angel, that what he liked about doing TV series was that it gave him the time to 'explore' things, and especially relationships. With Standoff the relationship in question is Matt and Emily's, and 19 episodes—I so hope we'll get to see them all!—will probably cover the important bits. It could be taken further than that, but the viewing public wants soap—note that Big Love, Desperate Housewives and just about every retard 'reality' show is certain of more runs—and Standoff didn't give us that. But it wasn't a strict 'cop show' either, or maybe something CSI-ish, so there was another nail in its coffin. Actually it was—is—a love story wrapped up in a cop-show. Kind of like Firefly was a Western wrapped up in sci-fi. Not enough people apparently 'get' that kind of genre-mix—which can work so well, as it does in Standoff and did in Firefly—to warrant the expenditure of the funds required to keep it in production.

Darn shame.


Eryn said...

Thank you! I love your review of Standoff! I'm glad that there are still some people out there watching even though FOX failed to promoted it the past six months!

Just a hint... a few of the upcoming episode do expand and deal with the lives of the characters! So keep watching, there is major developments ahead.

'Backfire' airs Friday night on FOX at 9pm!!

Till said...

Thanks. 8)

In New Zealand, from where I write this blog, we're only up to ep. 5. So I get it from my trusty p2p system, as soon as it appears on the Bittorrent network. Something to look forward to for Saturday night (for we are 18 hours ahead of the US).

I'll miss it when it's gone, but I am keeping all the downloaded episodes. One of those short-lived treasures.

Stine said...

What a geat review!

You have many good points, too many to repeat for now, since I'm in a hurry, but I agree with a lot of the things you say ;)

As the other comment mentioned, there will be much more charactor development in the next episodes (I live in europe, where the episodes have already aired). Not just with Matt and Emily, but with Cheryl, Frank, Duff and Lia too.

This show just get's better and better, it would be such a shame if we don't get a second season :(

Till said...

A second season would be nice; very. Unfortunately there's the grim Firefly precedent. Even a lot of dedicated fans won't cause a change of heart. For the execs it's not about people liking stuff. It's about enough people liking it so it pays; and more people liking it than they like whatever runs in the same timeslot on the other network. Which is fair enough, I guess, though in this instance it sucks.

As I said, I'll be grateful to see the remaining eps of the season.

Ahh, it's an unfair world. But we all know that, right?

Anonymous said...

We are fighting for Standoff's life right now. This is a great show that Fox has toyed with all season. They changed the time, put it on hiatus, changed the date, and then won't promote and yet it's supposed to get ratings...I think if FOX looked at the increase in On demand viewership and people joining the message boards on the FOX web-site then maybe they'll see what we do...a show with lots of potential.

Till said...

Gotta love the internet! 8)